The Lippies - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Lippies

Live in Grand Rapids (2016)

live show

I actually had no intention of reviewing The Lippies’ show at The Pyramid Scheme in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday, March 5, 2016. The band has been getting a ton of coverage lately in the punk press, and seems at risk of overexposure. I didn’t feel like I had any words left to write about them. I had just planned to go to their album release party, drink a couple beers, see some friends and have few laughs. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized how significant an event it was. The crowd was huge. There were twice as many people as The Lippies played for opening for Teenage Bottlerocket/PEARS, Masked Intruder or even Anti-Flag. A friend/employee told me that he had never seen so many people there for the opening act.

We showed up fashionably late and missed the first band entirely. There was a monster truck jam happening a couple of blocks away at the arena, and traffic and parking were a pain. We caught the end of the set by a band that I had never heard of called Five By Five. The Grand Rapids trio had a female vocalist/bassist and drummer. They played loud, noisy, '90s indie-inspired rock, and I enjoyed what little I saw. I will definitely check out these gals and guy further. Another GR band that I’d never heard of was up next. This time time it was four dudes called Sleep Cheaters. The bass player and sometimes singer stood front and center with his dad beard and sweater vest, a highly underutilized rock and roll look. One guitar player and sometimes singer blathered to the crowd like he was dropped on his head as a baby. Their music reminded me of The Minutemen, Big Boys or maybe The Pixies. One song was definitely revved up country. They weren’t really my thing, but I enjoyed their set.

The Lippies finally came on about 11:20 p.m., pretty late for a band accustomed to playing early in the bill. They led off with album opener “As We Fall" and proceeded to play through their Red Scare debut, largely in order. After a song or two, singer Tonia Broucek was christened with a beautiful dollar store tiara. The enthusiastic audience roared with approval. As big as the crowd was, it still felt intimate as the band explained the origin of many of the songs. “Walking on Fences” was written by guitarist Taylor Shupe after an unhealthy relationship ended. “Garbage Man” was about some creepy old man (I swear it wasn’t me) driving around Grand Rapids taking pictures of young girls with its angry chorus “DELETE THE PICTURES!” We learned that Tonia’s solo ukulele songs, “Basic Boy” and “It Boils,” were written as commissions to raise money to help cover the cost of touring. It’s an interesting twist on the artist/patron relationship, and a sad commentary on the current state of the music business. Chris Lidstone from local favorites Bong Mountain joined the band for “Sleeping,” as he did on the recording. On a record full of catchy songs, “Sleeping” is the one that seems to get stuck in my head the most. I’m pretty sure everyone in my house is sick of hearing me sing it.

In a lot of ways, this show felt like a changing of the guard. There weren’t too many old punks there, but lots of fresh faces. There were lot of kids that would never go see the old man punk shows that I favor. Tonia spoke of wanting Lippies’ shows to feel like a safe place for everyone. I thought of how a sense of danger was part of what drew me to punk so long ago. She spoke of how their non-binary friends sang backing vocals on a certain song. I had to Google it. I felt old, but also a little encouraged. These kids might be starting with The Lippies, but they might eventually make their way back to the Ramones or the Misfits. Maybe they’ll even discover Frightwig, The Avengers or X-Ray Spex. After playing the entire new LP, the band threw in the couple of EP tracks they had left. The Lippies sounded great, and really seemed to be feeding off the crowd’s boisterous energy. They went through a long thank you list toward the end of their set, and their gratitude was definitely genuine. They wrapped things up with fan favorite “Thelma and Louise,” which Tonia dedicated to her BFF. When the crowd demanded another song, The Lippies seemed at a loss. They eventually played the angry, unreleased “You are the Devil,” to the audience’s delight. They ended up playing for about 65 minutes, no small feat for a band used to getting a half hour.

Grand Rapids hasn’t hosted a punk record release show this big since Mustard Plug was doing their Hopeless Records stuff 15 or 20 years ago. (It’s worth noting that Lippies’ bassist Kole used to do merch for Mustard Plug and has toiled away in the local scene for as long as I can remember. It’s especially nice to see his hard work pay off.) The local support that The Lippies have gotten has been nothing short of amazing. Over the next couple of months, The Lippies will be touring with The Falcon and The Copyrights/Ray Rocket. They’ll be out there building their fan base the old fashioned way, one listener at a time. They’ll likely be playing short sets for half full rooms as people trickle in. I hope the memory of this show will sustain them on their long van rides and boring days. I also hope they meet lots of cool bands and encourage them to come play in this wonderful place that is Grand Rapids.