Passage the hell out of India
Black Lips gig in Sac, where a night of homoerotic, punk-rock high jinks doesn’t (necessarily) end in handcuffs
Smaller indie bands like Black Lips don’t ever get the opportunity to tour India—too many restrictions, too much red tape. Bands like Black Lips also don’t often come to Sacramento, either, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
Three months removed from Black Lips’ fateful January ’09 jaunt through the world’s second most populated country, bassist Jared Swilley answers his cell phone for this interview in the comforts of his hometown, Atlanta. He’s biking the outskirts of the city and, later, will be backyard barbecuing (pork tenderloin, he says) and a taking in a Braves game.
Better than being stuck in a New Delhi prison.
Swilley arranges all the Black Lips tours, including shows last year in Brazil and Israel. He’s booking shows in China for fall ’09, but says he’s never seen anything like what the band went through in India.
This five-show tour started off OK. Even boring. Swilley says the band would arrive at a venue—only men allowed—play a set and head back to the hotel. There was no booze at shows. Men held hands, but homosexuality in India is taboo and forbidden. Most of the concertgoers weren’t into the band’s music and just wanted to see its famed punk-rock antics.
But Swilley explains that people in India have awful taste in music, which drove him nuts. India’s abject poverty was also hard to stomach, even though he’d just seen the plight of the poor in Rio de Janeiro.
So this India tour, which a promoter had set up with some awful mainstream-rock bands, began to wear Swilley down. And then he cracked: One night before a gig, Swilley took a cab alone to the venue but stopped first at a motorcycle shop for some booze (he says these shops are the only places to get stiff drinks in India). Swilley arrived at the show wasted.
But, he recounts, it was the best show of the tour. The band went crazy, bringing an energy unseen at previous India gigs. They played guitar with their dicks and mooned the audience. “Punk antics” are what the crowd came to see, and they got it all right—and the normally passive Indian audience really got into it.
And then Swilley and Co. made the mistake of making out with each other onstage.
Afterward, at first, Swilley didn’t realize anything was wrong, because everyone seemed really stoked. But then the band’s India tour manager informed that the promoters were pissed, had canceled the rest of the tour and wanted $10,000 from the band for “damages.”
Oh, and Indian authorities probably were going to arrest Black Lips.
Back at the hotel, the four bandmates hunkered down in their room, deciding that their only option was to bail on the tour and flee the country. But when Swilley went to retrieve their passports from the front desk, he was informed that someone already had confiscated them.
“This is when I actually started to get scared,” Swilley recalls.
Eventually, the band found out that two guys outside guarding a parked car had the passports, which were locked in the trunk. They packed up, headed downstairs and confronted the men, threatening to beat their asses. The muscle handed over the passports, and Black Lips jetted to the airport and flew to Berlin.
Moral of the story: Maybe psychedelic indie rock—which, in case of the Black Lips, skews more Th’ Losin Streaks than Ganglians, more classic grunge than ’80s punk—just doesn’t belong in India. Let them have U2 and Dave Matthews. Let them have Wyclef Jean. Sacramento, where the Black Lips have performed a couple times in the past few years, will gladly not report them to Sheriff John McGinness.