St. Louis' own Flaming Death Trap opened, along with Seattle's Night Beats. Both bands rocked harder than most of the audience had probably expected. Flaming Death Trap seemed to take cues from the hardcore genre, often ending their songs in breakdowns with the lead singer wailing indistinct phrases. Although they had the mark of a rookie band -- a somewhat stilted stage presence and silly small talk in between songs: while fixing a guitar with tape, one guy said, "If you can't duct it, fuck it" -- the band hammered out song after song of hard rock & roll that went over well with the early crowd at the Firebird.
Night Beats brought a more psychedelic vibe to the venue, causing many audience members to do the eyes-closed sway dance that is most commonly seen at reggae shows. The most prominent aspect of Night Beats' set was singer and guitarist Lee Blackwell's shrieking distortion that was uncompromisingly strident. It seemed to zig-zag through the airwaves, even pulverizing the drums throughout the set. I heard a PBR drinker behind me later say that he'd been to a lot of shows, but he'd never heard "the kind of shit coming out of that dude's amp." I had to agree.
The Firebird was packed by the time the Black Lips took the stage. The Lips, on tour in support of their Mark Ronson—produced, sixth album, have such a deep song catalog when it comes to live shows that they only played a few new songs from "Arabia Mountain." There wasn't much fooling around as they pounded through a set containing live classics like "Dirty Hands" and "O Katrina." Bassist Ian St. Pé often gave shout outs to the women in the front and chided the bar for not having Coors Light, while singer and guitarist Cole Alexander played spooky sounding guitar and drum loops from a sampler near the amplifiers.
Although the show was tamer than the typical Black Lips experience -- "typical" being nudity/piss play, make-out sessions between band members, beer in the air throughout the show -- the band did its best to feed off the energy of a tame audience. The driving force of the set was Joe Bradley's drumming, which at every Black Lips show I've seen has been an exhausting display of pummeling that somehow has a rhythm. Through the mixture of surf, psych and folk rock, Bradley steered the band with a tambourine to floor tom mashing while the other members scratched at their guitars and sang vocal harmonies through half-open mouths.
The peak came when the Lips offered their most rabble-rousing song, "Bad Kids," which ignited the mosh pit for which the people near the front had been waiting. This was the moment the beer began to fly and St. Pé and Alexander shared a brief, yet tender kiss to most of the crowd's delight. (I saw a few guys cringe, and one even left). The floor became slippery, but that didn't stop a few ill-fated crowd surfing attempts. The newly energized crowd cheered on the Lips through "Arabia Mountain" cuts "New Direction" and "Dumpster Dive," but the wave of frenzy was short-lived. The band took a break and came back with an underwhelming encore -- a slow gospel rock song from their sideband, the Almighty Defenders. The band, sans the agitated-looking singer and bassist, Jared Swilley, were kind enough to give out high fives to adoring fans who pleaded for another song.
But the hope for one last, fully-realized mosh pit was killed when the lights came on and the roadie was obviously not just retuning the guitars. As people began to shuffle out, I relished the experience of sweating for a band, rather than an aerobic work out in the magnificent 70% humidity of the Midwest. I should do this every night.