Black Lips ooze shambolic chic and country sleaze at London’s Heaven 

The infamous garage rockers return to the same stage they almost got kicked off 15 years ago

There’s always an air of anticipation going to see Black Lips, as you never quite know what kind of Black Lips you’ll get on the night. All kinds of lewd behaviour built their reputation as a combustible live band throughout their career – spitting, snogging, vomiting, exhibitionism, you name it. They orchestrated a notorious stage invasion at London’s Heaven when they played back in 2008, so there was always a chance of history repeating itself.

The garage rock mainstays may not be as outrageous these days, but they’ve ardently stuck to their outlaw mentality which has both helped and hindered their prospects over the past two decades, and it’s never entirely clear how calculated their ideology is, if at all. But that’s what makes Black Lips both a mixed bag and a sure-fire must-see – there’s few acts that can do shambolic chic so effortlessly. 

Black Lips - Buried Alive (Official)

Both support acts are deserving of honourable mentions. Firstly, the sultry Joanie, who synth-pop label Italians Do It Better should be encouraged to check out, and secondly October and the Eyes – who had shades of Siouxsie Sioux if she had a penchant for sludgy basslines. 

Back to Black Lips: having hurdled several line-up changes throughout the year, it’s the tempestuous relationship between founders Cole Alexander – who was decked out like a character from Waterworld – and Jared Swilley that keeps the turbulent Atlantans ticking. And they both kick off the sweaty show by launching several streams of loo roll into the crowd. Black Lips may’ve evolved from high school reprobates to country sleaze cult band, but evidently old habits die hard. 

A wall of scuzzy guitar and saxophone ensued, the latter the courtesy of more recent recruit Zumi Rosow – the partner of Cole and Gucci ‘It Girl’ – who slays throughout and accentuates the band’s streetwalking, shady credentials. They’ve cultivated the backstreet freak aesthetic down to a tee and have even infiltrated high fashion.

Their set is career-spanning, though the tracks from recent albums Apocalypse Love and Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart don’t quite hit the mark with the London crowd, focusing more on Zumi’s saxophone theatrics than engaging with the music. That all changed once they crashed into ‘Modern Art’, the two-minute bop from 2011’s Mark Ronson-produced album Arabia Mountain. Likewise, ‘Family Tree’ from the same album shook up the audience mid-set before Black Lips’ excellent cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Get It on Time’.

Black Lips - Can't Hold On (Official Video)

For a band whose unpredictable reputation precedes them, they felt slightly reserved, sporadically addressing the crowd with undecipherable outbursts on the mic. But there’s still a lot of love for the Black Lips – despite the fact they’re still living off the edge that propelled them into VICE Magazine over a decade ago.

The band saved their biggest hits, ‘O Katrina!’ and ‘Bad Kids’, for the encore. There was no stage invasion this time around, but the toilet paper was absolutely flying.

Photo credit: Xavi Torrent / Getty