Sound Advice: Scent of a band

Smelly rock stars: I was unusually focused on my nose last Tuesday, nervous as hell that my allergies would act up before the Black Lips show.

The garage-rock band, on tour for its seventh record Underneath the Rainbow, announced that it had acquired a scent machine. And that, yes, the Black Lips’ shows would be scented. Supposedly the machine could emit fragrances as varied as “cedar,” “semen” and “moon.”

But first, I stuck my nose in a beer and watched the Coathangers open the show that evening as Assembly Music Hall quickly filled up. The three Atlanta-based ladies moved through their set with ease—quite literally: They moved a lot.

The punk rockers switched instruments in a couple giant rotations, taking no breaks to sweet talk the crowd or explain themselves. It was rowdy garage punk, with playful lyrics sung in a mix of self-aware squeals and deep-throated yells on double-fisted mics.

Perhaps all you really need to know is that the trio’s fourth album, which dropped just a week earlier, is called Suck My Shirt. And it refers to a favorite tequila-salvaging technique.

And as the crowd buzzed in anticipation of the Black Lips finally taking the stage, I sniffed and sniffed. I smelled weed. But that could have come from anywhere.

A friendly mosh pit formed as soon as the Lips started their raw, low-fi blend of rock, punk and blues. And their iconic anthem of rebellion “Bad Kids” sent said pit into a wild frenzy.

Sadly, the throwback to old hits didn’t incite a throwback to the crazy onstage antics the Black Lips have become known for. No vomiting, no bleeding, no nudity, no fire. The crude debauchery has dwindled over the years as the band’s gotten more professional in their punkdom.

Instead, I only watched out for a steady stream of crowd surfers who nearly knocked off my glasses, one by one. And knocked off their shoes, apparently. Also one by one.

“What’s the deal, California? You always throw single shoes on the stage,” said bassist Jared Swilley in the middle of the set. Tsk-tsk.

Then he made a comment about barefoot hippies and granola bars, which only reminded me about the smells I was not smelling. Or, wait? Was that smoke? The sweet scent of garbage? Spilled beer? Body odor?

Right. It smelled like a rock show.

Not witch house: With a name like †††, or Crosses, you might expect some supercreepy, occult-themed music. With a band that includes Chino Moreno of the Deftones and Shaun Lopez of Far, you might expect some Sacto-influenced alternative metal.

But Crosses defies all expectations. And the group didn’t try to set any, either.

Crosses came out of nowhere in 2011 with a free EP of synth-heavy, electronic rock floating online. Word got out that the music came from Moreno, Lopez and Chuck Doom. Crosses got huge. The band plays Ace of Spades on Saturday, April 5, as part of a tour bridging stints at South by Southwest and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The band prides itself on its organic formation and growth. It started out as Lopez and Doom writing electronic songs for kicks. Then, Moreno got involved. Labels weren’t invited. And Crosses was able to slowly write, record and release its self-titled debut in February of this year. All the while, Crosses avoided calling itself a supergroup.

“We made it a point to not sell it that way,” Lopez said. “I think the music is good enough to stand on its own.”

Confused about metalheads turning to programmed beats? Lopez said he’s always loved electronic music—it’s what he would listen to in his Far days. And it’s well-documented that Moreno is a big Depeche Mode fan.

But that doesn’t explain the dark and eerie vibe that pervades Crosses, or why the band replaces the letter “t” with a cross in everything from song titles to tweets. Spirituality and religion, though not any specific religion, is a present force.

It might be Lopez’s doing. In the studio, he played movies like The Holy Mountain, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange—“beautiful, weird, cinematic masterpieces”on mute in the background.

“That influenced the music, the look of everything,” Lopez said. “I’m very proud of the imagery we’ve pulled off.”

After Coachella, Crosses has no concrete plans. But another record might be in the worksLopez said the trio never really stopped writing and has already finished some new songs. But they won’t play them live yet, so don’t bother praying.