Step one: Don’t play hockey riots. The last time Vancouver had a chance to see Black Lips, they were on tour behind 2011’s garage rock opus Arabia Mountain. This also happened to be the last time Vancouver saw the Canucks play the Stanley Cup finals. And as downtown Vancouver hosted its second hockey riot, Black Lips were cancelling their gig at the Commodore Ballroom.
“It was pretty wild [in Vancouver], our whole venue had to be changed,” bassist, singer, and songwriter Jared Swilley notes of the occasion. “I just remember walking outside after sound check and people were setting stuff on fire. And then someone got thrown off a bridge?” But despite their reputation as wild young punks, they either remained mature about the situation, or just believe in denying everything. “I don’t know anything about hockey and I don’t want to be some American that’s going around and trashing the city,” Swilley assures me. “I don’t want to be some dickhead that’s just like ‘Oh, let’s go wreck shit.’”
Thankfully, Vancouver’s locals hosted some positive partying memories for Black Lips. “One time we were hanging out with some kids, about 16 of us,” Swilley recounts, “so we flagged down a limo driver and spun a deal to pull up to this warehouse party. In a limo.”
These savvy fans were a welcome change from their past experiences as well. “The first few times we came were tiny shows. I think we played the Cambie. We might have had ten people there,” Swilley recalls, “ but I think we had to wait until we were on In The Red [records], so that everyone could quit their day jobs.”
But the band still weren’t sheltered from the chaos of that night. “Me and Cole, and almost Bradford from Deerhunter, got beat up that night, on the street by a hockey fan,” Swilley recalls. “We were just waiting in line to get some food, and Cole was wearing a dress and a cowboy hat. This guy starts harassing him, so I asked him not to make fun of my friend anymore, he asked me to step outside,” he summarizes, “…and he was a real brawler.”
When raucous hockey fans are not punching them out, Black Lips have been partying in the world’s least rock-friendly destinations with their most unlikely fans. Last year their tour destinations included the middle east, notably Iraq, with opening acts including a busking street youth, “There were these kids hanging around the park playing the Oud, a traditional Iraqi lute-looking instrument,” says Swilley, “and so we just asked him, would it be cool if you came out with us and did a little set?” Overall anti-American sentiment in the active war zone was shockingly understated. “I think everyone in the Middle East was really good at establishing the difference between U.S. foreign policy and a rock band,” Swilley shrugs. “It was pretty incredible; incredibly surreal.”
After spending almost the entirety of last year uniting fans from around the world, Black Lips are now on tour across North America behind their first new album in three years, Under the Rainbow. “We don’t want to make the same record over and over, but I think we’ve hit a good stride playing with each other,” Swilley reveals of the album. “I’m almost looking forward to go on tour behind it to relax,” Swilley states, as if staying home could be more exciting.
Black Lips release Underneath the Rainbow on March 18th then dodge another swift left hook at the Rickshaw on March 27th.
By Mathieu Youdan
Photo: Mick Rock