On their debut album, Converted Thieves, Black Lipstick tackles the great themes: blowing off work, getting F'd up, getting by, fate, divine intervention, death, determination, stealing girlfriends and keeping them. Thankfully, it's done with the fiery passion, biting wit and fucking blazing riffage these lofty subjects deserve.
A little background... Singer/guitarist Phillip Niemeyer grew up eight blocks from Doug Sahm in San Antonio, Texas. After being kicked out of the elementary school choir and twice failing to qualify for the high school talent show, Phillip learned to sing by belting along with the only examples he had — those "singers who couldn't sing," as David Berman put it. He does more damage with his God-given monotone than the whole cast of American Idol. But do not confuse his vocal limitations with sarcasm. He means every word.
Elizabeth Nottingham played drums for the first time the very day Black Lipstick started and coaxes her beats out of days spent driving around with her windows down, listening to the hip-hop/R&B station BEAT 104.3.
Travis Higdon steps to the mic on a few songs and is responsible for most of the major riffage. He also adds the occasional (and occasionally convincing) drunk Nicky Hopkins impersonation on piano.
Steve Garcia joined the band just two months before they began recording Converted Thieves and proves himself the rightful heir to the Telecaster bass he bought from Mike Watt for $150 (true story). Steve also acquired the bass amp Watt used on Double Nickels but pawned it to pay rent.
Critics from The Village Voice to Seattle Weekly placed the band on par with its vaunted influences, a short list of rock's great trash-poets (VU, TV, Modern Lovers, the Fall). Time Out New York named their debut EP, The Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick, one of the ten best releases of 2001. Still, praise does not pay the bills, and the band was (is) broke. During the recording of Converted Thieves, Travis was on the dole, Beth made below minimum wage, Steve couldn't even afford a phone and Phillip was the only attorney in town commuting by bus & bicycle.
Yet, determined, they took their money troubles ("Ease Back"), shame ("Hot Sinners") and doubts ("Dirges Are Downers") as ingredients, seasoning them with small victories ("Serpents," "The Memorial Day Miracle") and eternal weekends ("Corporate Happy Hour," "Yesterday's Horoscope Was Right"). The result is a serious record that seriously wails. Converted Thieves is a voice from the present urging one to live in the now, and it rocks like a labor of love on its day off.
Musically, the album swaggers from dark choogle to incandescent shimmer to soaring guitorchestra — a dynamic only achieved with instruments motored by human movement — with rhythms that heartbeats envy and guitar licks that feel like steady sips from a cold beer. Solos simultaneously hit wrong notes and carve symphonies. Lyrically, low puns mesh with high motives to craft a tone that is serious for its refusal to take itself seriously.
The depth of Converted Thieves sets it apart from the band's "garage rock" contemporaries, and the group's unpretentious, all-too-Texan, party spirit distinguishes them from dour practitioners of "art rock." This is "Rock Rock," made to matter by people who care — deeply, passionately and truly. As promised in "Voodoo Economics," Black Lipstick will uplift you higher. So roll the windows down and turn the AC on. This is one for the Jeeps, for the walkmans and for summers that last 20 years.
(L-R) Travis Higdon, Steve Garcia,
Elizabeth Nottingham, Phillip Niemeyer
Black Lipstick "Converted Thieves" CD
(Peek-A-Boo Records, 2003)
"The Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick" EP
(Peek-A-Boo Records, 2001)
© 2003 Peek-A-Boo Records