Black Lips on Their Adventures in the Middle East

The Atlanta rockers have come back from the Middle East with a movie and many, many stories.
Black Lips
Black Lips on the Red Bull Tour Bus in 2012 © Red Bull Content Pool
By Nicole Pajer

Black Lips have set a very ambitious goal for themselves: To be the first band to perform on all seven continents.

After having toured most of the globe, the Atlanta-based rockers set foot on new ground last fall, playing four-weeks across the Middle East. The tour took them to Iraq, Dubai, Lebanon, Cyprus and Egypt, where they became the first American band to perform in Cairo since The Grateful Dead in 1978.

The band’s travels were documented by director Bill Cody and compiled into a video, ‘Kids Like You and Me,’ which was screened last week at Sonos Studio in Los Angeles.

“We wanted to go to the Middle East because I’ve done research and there haven’t been any Western rock bands that have toured there at all," said Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley. "I’m sure in the '70s people had gone, but as far as recently, no one had done it so we just wanted to try and do it."

Swilley and his bandmates networked with music fans in the Middle East through social media sites and enlisted their help to start booking shows. They also hooked up with a Lebanese band, Lazy Lung, whom they toured with along the way.

In Iraq there were liquor stores everywhere. We were on a rooftop hotel drinking. I was only there for a few weeks but from what I saw, the picture on the ground was a lot different than I think the perception that a lot of people here and in Europe think.

“People went out of their way to make us feel comfortable,” said Swilley. “I remember right when we pulled up to Alexandria, [Egypt], this older couple gestured for me to come over. They asked if I was American, and the husband gave me cigarettes, and the wife brought me tea.”

They experienced similar hospitality in Palestine. “We started playing Chuck Berry songs in front of a mosque, and all these kids and their parents came out and invited us to their restaurant,” said Swilley.

While the Black Lips were well received by the citizens, they did experience a bit of red tape along the way. To enter Lebanon, they had to difficulty obtaining work visas. In Cairo, they were asked to refrain from drinking alcohol during a show, which took place at a community center. And in Dubai, they were not allowed to speak to their audience unless spoken to first.

Dubai, Swilley said, seemed to be the least liberal of all the stops along the tour -- “We went to the mall and there are signs saying no holding hands or public displays of affection,” he said -- but in other countries, the lifestyle appeared more relaxed. He said there were “girls in headscarves moshing at our shows, smoking cigarettes and skateboarding.”

I guess the point of the media is to sensationalize things and tell stories... a few days before we were going to Cairo, when you turned on CNN, it looked like the whole city was on fire and that they were going to hang you if you were an American.

He added, “In Iraq there were liquor stores everywhere. We were on a rooftop hotel drinking. I was only there for a few weeks, but from what I saw, the picture on the ground was a lot different than I think the perception that a lot of people here and in Europe think.”

Swilley says his Middle Eastern experience has caused him to become a bit disillusioned with the American media.

“I guess the point of the media is to sensationalize things and tell stories. Things do happen there, but a few days before we were going to Cairo, when you turned on CNN it looked like the whole city was on fire, and that they were going to hang you if you were an American. It wasn’t like that at all, and we were in Tahrir Square and by the Embassy. There was a small protest, but what the media didn’t report was the main people that were protesting in Cairo at that time wasn’t Al Qaeda or Muslim fanatics; it was Egyptian Ultras and various religious groups that were fighting the police.”

Next up for Black Lips is to hit the South Pole and to perform for the 1,600 contractors and scientists on a research base in Antarctica.

“There’s a pub there that we can play in whenever we can find someone to fund us some money,” said Swilley. “This is exactly how we got the Middle East thing going – we just kept saying it in interviews constantly and talking about it constantly until someone approached us about it. That’s how you get it done. We’re ready to go!”

Look out for 'Kids Like You And Me' on tour around the country and then on DVD. Follow Nicole Pajer on Twitter for more updates.

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