Boozin' & Cruisin'

Atlanta's next-level garage rockers, the Black Lips, party like it's 1969.

When people think of monumental festivals that occurred in the '60s, Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival are usually the two that first come to mind. However, the Ken Kesey–organized Trips Festival in San Francisco might be one of the most overlooked cultural psychedelic events in history. During a three-day bender in early 1966, independent films were shown and light shows danced on the walls. The Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company performed alongside other psychedelic, experimental bands. The goal of this event was to mystify the minds of the youth in attendance as they tried to "pass the acid test." Unfortunately, one band that couldn't make the gig was the Black Lips.

Of course it's because none of the band members had been born yet. But the band is currently pumping out songs that could make today's generation freak out. And they don't care if you say they sound like a '60s garage band. In fact, that is exactly what they are trying to do.

The Black Lips are not a cover band, though. Bass player Jared Swilley says that even though they borrow some of the ideas from the old psychedelic/garage era, they try to expand on them with a more moderate approach. A band that certainly brings the party with them (they've been banned from many nightclubs), the Black Lips blend punk's attitude into their music. Their lyrics can tend to be dark and dreary, with references to children dying and soldiers in Iraq getting their heads blown off. Why so gloomy?

One reason could be that the band has not had a cakewalk of a career. Formed in 2000, when the band members were teenagers, they lived the rock-and-roll life, touring all over and competing to get more wasted than their audience at each show. But in 2002, this was all cut short when guitarist Ben Ederbaugh was killed in a freak auto accident. Swilley insists that the sometimes negative lyrics did not stem from this event and that they are just tongue in cheek.

"We're not a sad, depressed, or angry band," he says.

And besides, they also write about Aunt Jemima and Jesus sometimes.

Bands often call it quits, or at least change their name, when a member dies suddenly. Fortunately, the Black Lips slowly picked up the pieces and moved on. Swilley, drummer Joe Bradley, and guitarist-vocalist Cole Alexander endured many lineup changes as well as trying out several different labels. Today they seem pretty content with their new home on Vice Records and the addition of guitarist Ian St. Pe, whom, at age 28, they call the "old guy in the group."

The first project to emerge with Vice will be a live album that was recorded in Tijuana, Mexico. Swilley says that the band was under the impression it would be a concert, only to find out it was just a party in the middle of a big room in a house. "But it was great." he says. "We had these mariachi players jamming with us, and we were fed free Tecate and tequila all night." This performance should get released in late February, but expect an online preview to emerge soon on their Web site.

It's hard to label the Black Lips. Something similar to the old Velvet Underground song "Run, Run, Run" can be heard in their music, as well as bits and pieces of the Animals, the Strokes, the Kingsmen, and even the Libertines to an extent. Think of the boys in the movie Animal House, arm-in-arm, slurring along to "Louie, Louie," and you might come close to their raucous sound.

The Black Lips like to party hard. When I spoke to them, they first said that they were on their way to Florida for a party, but later said that it was a funeral. Can they really make a party out of a funeral? It would make sense, since Swilley claims: "Lots of alcohol keeps our immune systems strong when we're out on the road. Apparently that's why we never catch colds."

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