THE BLACK LIPS opening for BE YOUR OWN PET at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (September 25), 9 pm. $12. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
When it comes to onstage antics, a little spit-swapping or blood-splattering is a standard part of a rock 'n' roll good time.
But since Black Lips singer/guitarist Cole Alexander perfected his mouth-pissing trick, his group's show-stopping gimmicks are beginning to overshadow the fact that they're one of the most exciting bands playing snotty garage rock right now.
While his bandmates worry that Alexander's fountain-of-urine trick is in danger of becoming a regular part of the act, convincing the frontman to keep his pants zipped is easier said than done.
"Cole's dick tricks began when he was in a band called the Renegades at the age of 14 or 15," explains drummer Joe Bradley from his Atlanta home. "They were trying to do stuff by the Sex Pistols and the Damned but couldn't play their instruments that well, so they resorted to stage antics. It began with Cole smearing some of that Nickelodeon Gak stuff on his dick and setting it on fire, but that almost got the 513 Club shut down for indecent exposure.
"Then he started plunking on the strings with his penis, but he'd complain about getting all these scabs. That's when he came up with the idea of peeing in his own mouth and spewing it at the audience. We don't want to be known as a gimmick band, so he doesn't whip it out every night - just when everything feels right. I'm okay with it as long as he's not pissing on me."
What may help enhance the Black Lips' performance rep is a new live concert disc for the Vice label, recorded two weeks ago in Tijuana, Mexico. Even though a Black Lips show south of the border was almost guaranteed to be off the hook, Vice took precautionary measures to help ensure an unhinged audience response for the taping.
"Oh man, that show was fucking insane. The whole thing was funded by Vice in conjunction with some snowboarding company as a sponsor, so they made it a free show. Once you got inside, there was free beer and tequila all night long. People didn't seem that drunk during the opening band's set, but when we got onstage the place went from zero to blitzed in no time flat.
"We've had to play defensive shows before when the audience gets a little too close and aggressive, but this was ridiculous," continues Bradley. "We were set up in the middle of the room on a stage no more than 6 inches off the floor, surrounded by wasted dudes going absolutely nuts. Jared (bassist Swilley) tried using his bass to hold people back, but it wasn't working, so we started throwing punches at anyone grabbing at us."
Bradley says the Lips had to stop the show after only 30 minutes, worried that someone was going to get seriously injured or arrested. On the plus side, he claims the recording sounds amazing, and with three video cameras on hand to document the antics, the disc's enhanced portion "should be quite entertaining."
"We're recording a studio album for Vice in November," he adds, "so that live recording will probably be out in January."
According to Bradley, Vice was actually interested in signing Nashville's Be Your Own Pet, who'd already decided on another label and suggested that Vice instead consider signing their favourite band, the Black Lips. Not entirely coincidently, Be Your Own Pet are now touring with the Black Lips, who are opening the shows - an odd arrangement considering the Lips are the more established act and a bigger draw... for good reason.
"I guess the thinking was that they've been featured in NME so that's enough to guarantee headlining status.
"Whatever," snorts Bradley. "They're cool kids, but I don't think they've done any real touring before. Let's just say it'll be interesting to see how they fare following our set."