Flaming Lips and the Disneyfication of Psychedelia
by Dave Segal
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?!"
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 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.
"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.
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—contraLouis 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.
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.