LIVE: Black Lips - Sound Control, Manchester

It’s almost that downward-spiralling time of the year when the summer disappears into distant memory, the festival season is no more, and life suddenly feels that bit more laboured once again.

Just me? Perhaps this does sound a little too bleak, but there’s nothing more energy-sapping than the impending darkness of the night coming down with its contentment-ruining fist at an earlier juncture night-on-night.

Our reaction to this descent can either be one of crawling back to where we came from last May, settling down for the rigours of winter, or kicking the bucket and throwing everything we have in our arsenal right back at the finite nature of the seasons.

This act of proactive self-defence needs a soundtrack though, and for Mancunians the perfect band to lead the charge returned to their city after a five-year absence last night.

Black Lips are built on a culture of rebellion. After being kicked out of school in their senior year for being rather laughably described as what guitarist Cole Alexander calls a “subculture danger”, they burst onto the scene in the early 00s with a self-titled debut LP that was more rickety and disjointed than the US indie bands that were making it big at the time.

The record gained a following with the underground, but the mould of the band was quickly reshaped after the death of former guitarist Ben Eberbaugh, who was hit by what could similarly be dubbed as a ‘pop culture danger’ in the shape of a careless drink-driver. Since then, the Atlantans have spent a decade peppering the music world with short, sharp bursts of garage-rock that feel like a much-needed breath of fresh air every time they arrive – almost like discovering a new group with every record.

This is a sentiment that is backed up by the attendees at Manchester’s Sound Control, with a front pit dominated by fans who must have been in nappies when Black Lips’ debut surfaced.

Support is carried out by local boys Temple Songs, who pull off a set that equals the encapsulating show we caught at Beacons Festival a couple of weeks ago. It’s slightly more melodic than the fierce output of the evening’s headliners, but a wholly enjoyable way to warm up.

Newer material from Underneath the Rainbow, released earlier this year presents a more layered sound, embracing the blues influence that Eberbaugh was said to have been the main exponent of in the band’s early work. Not that this calms down the kids at the front, with teenagers throwing themselves back and forth, setting alight an audience that is noticeably sparse.

‘Dirty hands’ from 2005’s Let It Bloom comes as a particular shot in the arm. Bassist Jared Swilley maintains his position in centre stage all night, with guitarists Alexander and Jack Hines providing a two-pronged attack from either side.

It’s not completely clear whether they have been premeditated and kept to the back of stage all night, or whether the over-hyped kids down the front have raided the facilities. But by the time ‘O Katrina’ is up; the stage, mic stands, and metallic beams that line the roof of the venue are all strewn with toilet roll.

Before long Black Lips have reversed the depression of the elements and created a temperature that is truly sizzling. What the crowd lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in unbridled enthusiasm that at times looks like boiling over.

It’s hard to imagine this is the first time Swilley and co have been met with such exuberance. But as they are pelted with beer, water, god knows what other fluids, and eventually items of clothing, they take it unbelievably well, even giving one particularly over-stimulated onlooker his shirt back upon request.

It’s incredibly refreshing to see a group that have aged without losing any of their vigour, bite and disorientating snarl – perhaps a by-product of them still being criminally underrated commercially.

The set comes to a close with ‘Bad Kids’, the track could well be adjudged to have been a theme tune for the entire evening. A bout of crowd surfing built on a rather flimsily-formed foundation soon escalates into a full-on stage invasion. The youngsters from down the front are joined by a fair few fans who look like they’ve been there since the turn of the millennium. It’s a truly joyous crescendo.

Hell, the narcotic-filled guy who managed to regain his shirt earlier even steals Hines’ mic, belting out the chorus himself to the joy of those who’ve stayed down below and the dismay of the venue’s hapless security staff. Please don’t leave it five years again this time.

Patrick Davies