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Monday, July 29, 2013

Flaming Lips and the Disneyfication of Psychedelia

Posted by on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 11:41 AM

If only Flaming Lips’ music were as spectacular as their visuals… (Check out Josh Bis’ amazing photos and the inevitable YouTube clips that are being uploaded, even as I type.) Last night’s headlining performance at Block Party dazzled optically but fizzled sonically.

Who wants to change this diaper?!
  • Josh Bis
  • "Who wants to change this diaper?!"

Keep in mind that this report comes from a fan who bought the first Lips EP in 1985 and who’s salty because Wayne Coyne and co. didn’t even toss the old-guard followers ANYTHING pre-Soft Bulletin; the oldest track was “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton.” I didn’t expect the Lips to hit me like they did the first time (in 1989 at a small Ann Arbor club where Nirvana opened for them—FACT), but jeezus, digging a little deeper into the canon sure would’ve livelied up the proceedings.

Do you realize how schmaltzy weve become?
  • Josh Bis
  • "Do you realize how schmaltzy we've become?"

“I can’t believe how cool Seattle is,” Coyne pandered after mounting the stage about 15 minutes after the scheduled 8:15 pm starting time. The Lips started with the “Look…The Sun Rising,” one of the better cuts off 2013’s The Terror; it’s a trenchant, melancholy psych tune with caustic guitars that at least faintly echoed the Lips’ wilder, younger, better days. The crunching, fuzz-guitar funk of “The W.A.N.D.” was another early highlight. The cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel” also excited with its staccato bombast and pulsating white strobe lights.

Its gonna be a riot of love. Did you remember the Trojans?
  • Josh Bis
  • "It's gonna be a riot of love. Did you remember the Trojans?"

But much of the set consisted of downer, orchestral ballads that would inevitably explode melodramatically toward the end into a Vegas-y psych climax, a kind of Disneyfied simulacrum of “trippy.” But again, WOW, the visuals. (I should note that I watched Flaming Lips from 10th Avenue, because as with Friday’s Girl Talk set, in the Main Stage zone it was hard to move or breathe or not feel like you were being enclosed in a sarcophagus made out of suburban bros.)

Flaming Lips fans, July 2013. Totes have Drug Machine In Heaven on their Zunes.
  • Josh Bis
  • Flaming Lips fans, July 2013. Totes have "Drug Machine In Heaven" on their Zunes.

It was during “All We Have Is Now” that I realized, again, that at the core of Flaming Lips’ music is a grandiose sentimentality that is super cloying; Coyne’s fragile, Neil Young-ish croon compounds that feeling. Also, I thought we had tomorrow, too… and can’t we hold on to at least a shred of yesterday, as well? No? The man in the psychedelic suit on the stage so very far away sang, “All we have is now.” Kind of a bummer, but so be it.

The Lips closed, to nobody’s surprise, with “Do You Realize??” and I thought—contra Louis Armstrong (via Bob Thiele (as "George Douglas") and George David Weiss—it was not such a wonderful world at that point. I knew it was too late for them to take me ta Mars, but I was holding out hope that they’d maybe talk ’bout the smiling death porn immortality blues or tap into some slow nerve action or fire up the Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory. But no. We got the Hollywood ending.

And then… MTNS! Set up outside of the Comet Tavern, the Seattle duo loosed a noise-rock whirlwind that blasted away the glittery, tickertaped schmaltz in which the Lips had smothered Pike Street. OH MY GAWD, was this necessary. At one point, bassist Austin Hund magnanimously thanked Flaming Lips for opening for them. LOL of the weekend.

¡MTNS! tumultuously cock block the CHBP.
  • Valerie Calano
  • ¡MTNS! tumultuously cock block the CHBP.

For the second year in a row, MTNS had, however minutely, usurped Block Party bloat and struck a thunderous, abrasive chord for local underground greatness. Fans and random CHBP stragglers formed a semi circle of love around the twosome and MTNS' brief, furious set placed a furry exclamation mark on this overwrought weekend.


Comments (12) RSS

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lolorhone 1
I like you as a writer, but you're starting to sound like an "It was all better back in the day" scold. Sentimentality has always been a part of the Lips' repertoire, even in their harsher early days (Having the free time as an adult to explore the psychedelic mindscape isn't too far off from childhood play- Sonic Youth talked about that on A Thousand Leaves). Besides, being forever tough-minded would preclude a lot of musical greatness (Al Green, Brian Wilson, etc.) I saw the Lips with Gnarls Barkley and Cat Power about six years ago. By the time they got to "Do You Realize?" there were young and old, newbies and die-hards, crying and holding hands. You might say puke. I say sometimes cheese is Brie, you know?
Posted by lolorhone on July 29, 2013 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Timrrr 2
I too miss the clear vinyl days of ol'!

(Central Tavern`88, Blood Circus & Skin Yard opened)
Posted by Timrrr on July 29, 2013 at 3:21 PM · Report this
Grrr.... And why won't Radiohead write another OK Computer? And Fugazi should have called it quits after Steady Diet of Nothing. And you kids get your MP3s off my lawn!

For what it's worth, Coyne stopped by the Northwest Film Forum earlier in the afternoon and charmed the metaphorical pants off me. I had been artistically ambivalent about him for years, but after bearing witness to his honesty and earnestness, I'm unusually primed to give him the benefit of the doubt at this moment.
Posted by d.p. on July 29, 2013 at 3:24 PM · Report this
@1 I play it on a case-by-case basis. With the Lips, it was better back in the day, from my perspective. But I still have respect for a band that can still do pretty strange things on such a large scale, even if their last several releases haven't done much for me.
Posted by Dave Segal on July 29, 2013 at 4:00 PM · Report this
As someone who didn't have the chance to see said Lips back in the day, last night's concert was absolutely mind-blowing (as a result of the music AND the visuals). Over the course of that one show, I learned about the power of love, synthesizers, and strobe lights, and I only wished I could have learned something nearly as valid from any of the other shows I saw this weekend. Not to support the alleged disneyfication of the lips, but there's a reason why Do You Realize is their closing song: because it's beautiful, sentimental, and still feels fresh despite the cynicism often hurled at it. I hope Wayne Coyne is proud.
Posted by matthwlnd on July 29, 2013 at 5:00 PM · Report this
lolorhone 6
@4: Fair enough. It's just the article kind of sounded like the people who bitch about PJ Harvey no longer talking sex and taking your head off sonically, even though her worst album in a 20 year career is still very good, she has yet to repeat herself and it can't be 1993 forever. And I wouldn't call "Do You Realize?" a 'Hollywood ending'. It's a lighter-waving, couple-swaying collectivist moment stronger than cynicism. Well, MY cynicism.
Posted by lolorhone on July 29, 2013 at 5:10 PM · Report this
lolorhone 7
@5: Jinx on the "Do You Realize?" anti-cynicism thing.
Posted by lolorhone on July 29, 2013 at 5:14 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 8
That set actually felt a tad less schmaltzed than the recently-retired UFO/hamster ball show. I did love (but forgot to snap a picture of) the video projections of the show and crowd on the sides of the buildings lining the north side of Pike.
Posted by Josh Bis on July 29, 2013 at 5:21 PM · Report this
It's just progress ..the band ..obviously ..has takern a Much darker course.for their new album and they're embracing it ..when the confetti canons shot out black confetti instead of colorful vibrant confetti was definitly a departure from themselves even 2 years ago. And sure they played alot of new stuff..which kind of bummed me out first..but hearing the new tunes With ..whom they are personally and currently all Made sense. The show was incredible ..last time I saw them was at Red Rocks where they performed The Darl Side of Moon from beginning to end .and at they end they only played two of their own songs ..was I bummed ..sure a lil but that's what they wanted to play..just like last night..
Posted by FlamingLipsForTheWin on July 29, 2013 at 5:31 PM · Report this
i love how this guy tries to give himself street cred, "i was wayyyyy into them back in '85. but man, the local noise rock band blew my tits off!" first of all, it's a festival- you get what you pay for- a collection of greatest hits and songs that the mass public can sing along to. and they're performers, not magicians. besides, if you want a good show you're gonna have to shell out the money at the paramount. such a shame this guy is so jaded that wayne coyne just couldn't make him feel anything. he's like the equivalent of a junkie going to his dealer wanting a refund cause it just doesn't feel like the first time...
Posted by whoeveryouwantmetobe on July 29, 2013 at 6:35 PM · Report this

You nailed it.
Posted by reaganyouth on July 29, 2013 at 7:50 PM · Report this
tainte 12
oh yeah, i'm sure all the kids there would have loved to have seen them back in the 80s with nirvana...except they weren't alive yet.
Posted by tainte on July 30, 2013 at 5:35 PM · Report this

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