Living Things were playing the Gypsy Tearoom in Dallas. During the show singer/guitarist Lillian Berlin vented about the war in Iraq.* Was it the war's false pretenses (no weapons of mass destruction, terrorist connections or atomic bomb in the works) or the absence of a competent exit strategy leaving both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians in grave danger that got him worked up? Whatever, Lillian certainly had enough material for his tirade.
Seems Lillian struck a nerve. After the show, he was assaulted at gunpoint in an alley. "Three guys threw me on the ground, broke my ribs, and I heard a bullet race right past my ear," Lillian claimed. "Either they were trying to scare me or they had really bad aim." Smart money says it was just to scare him. Texans usually get a gun before they start grade school. They know how to use them - just as the Second Amendment intended.
Most normal people, going through a similar experience, would probably adopt a lower profile. But not Lillian or Living Things for that matter. Besides, what choice did they have?
When you're a guy named Lillian your chances of living a normal life are nil. Not only that, he's got a younger brother named Eve (who plays bass in the group ). Both were doomed. Sure, they were named after their grandmothers but still...
Back in '69, Johnny Cash had one of his biggest pop hits with "A Boy Named Sue." The humorous song, composed by satirist Shel Silverstein, told the story of a father, who knew he wouldn't be around to help his son grow up, named the boy Sue to make him tough. Of course, what made the song funny was that no one in the real world would ever give their son a girl's name. Guess it's not so preposterous. But it takes a toll. When you've been laughed at and ridiculed all your life because of your name you tend to set your own course without regard for what others think.
At least the youngest Berlin brother, drummer Bosh, has a moniker with a masculine tone.
|* When in Texas, there are some things you shouldn't do in public:|
|1. Bad mouth Texas or Texans.|
|2. Demonstrate less than total devotion to Texas football (high school and college).|
|3. Advocate gun control or any other restriction preventing Texans from acting stupidly.|
|4. Question the federal government when it is controlled by Republicans (especially Republicans with Texas roots).|
|Violating the first three will likely cost you your life. There's a little more give with #4 which helps explain why Lillian Berlin is still with us.|
Lillian traveled a circuitous route before Living Things. He dropped out of high school in '97 and bounced around the country with his girlfriend in a heroin induced stupor, busking and panhandling for money. Lillian eventually holed up in Chicago.
That's when his mom, a former Chicago political activist, who had relocated to St. Louis, returned to the Windy City to retrieve her son and set him straight. With that accomplished, the brothers joined forces. The line-up was completed with the addition of a friend, Cory Becker (guitar). In '02, Living Things headed for L.A.
A lot of groups hit L.A. with high expectations. Rarely are the fulfilled but Living Things seemed to nail it within weeks. Their hard-nosed Punk and confrontational lyrics, drew the attention of Geffen/DreamWorks Records. "Black Skies In Broad Daylight" was recorded in '03 with veteran producer Steve Albini. But label squabbles kept the album from being released in the U.S. It has appeared as an import. Soon the Living Things were cut loose and had trouble finding another label until Jive stepped in.
Waiting for things to be resolved, Living Things toured with Lillian managing to get busted for "disturbing the peace" at the '04 Republican Convention. Political discussions/arguments between Lillian and the audience marked a good many shows, occasionally resulting in arrests. Finally, '05 saw Living Things' debut "Ahead Of The Lions."
To record their '09 release "Habeas Corpus," Living Things went to - Berlin (the same locale where David Bowie and Iggy Pop once tried to put their lives - personal and creative - back on track).
Living Things holed up at Hansa Recording Studios, once a ballroom favored by Third Reich commanders for recitals and social gatherings. In this daunting environment, the group laid down Punk anthems and songs of rebellion - their stock and trade.
"Ahead Of The Lions" is a fierce, energetic, politically conscious Punk album. There are no compromises. And it's about time. The term "Punk" should be able to appear without the word "pop" being adjacent. Lillian's tough, dark vocals provide an element of danger.
The opening tracks, "Bombs Below" and the debt-riddled "I Owe" are down and dirty. Interestingly, Living Things really crank on the songs with religious overtones - "End Gospel," "No New Jesus" and "God Made Hate."
For a change of pace the group employs acoustic touches here and there as well as '80s influences, which are especially pronounced on "New Year" and "Monsters Of Man." "On All Fours" resurrects the blistering early Nirvana sound with authority.
"Black Skies In Broad Daylight" contains many songs that would later appear on "Ahead Of The Lions." It has some tracks not on "Lions" but "Lions" is far better.