Thursday, October 14, 2010
Some thoughts on seeing the Flaming Lips live
Last night the Flaming Lips came to St. Petersburg to play at Jannus Live, a venue that is easily in my top-20 list of why St. Petersburg rocks my face off. Seriously, it's an outdoor venue in the middle of a city, and it has trees! And beer only costs $5.50! A win in every possible way.
Rather than compiling my thoughts into a cohesive review, I'll just share the thoughts I had while I was watching the second-best thing to come out of Oklahoma (the best being me!)
1. The band played "She Don't Use Jelly," because they are evidently not snobs and they believe in respecting the things that brought them fame, even if that thing is a song that rhymes "Vaseline" with "magazines." They played this even though two-thirds of the audience was in elementary school when "She Don't Use Jelly" was a Big Deal, and thus did not know the words to the song. (I was not among those two-thirds. The song came out when I was a junior in high school. Yes, I am getting old, and yes I sang along.)
2. Listening to "She Don't Use Jelly," I had to marvel that such a song ever became a hit, let alone got any sort of radio airplay. It's a silly little ditty propelled by Drummer-Boy-style drumming, and Wayne Coyne has this wavering, purposefully-nerdy voice. But then it occurred to me that the 90s - and bear with me, I'm going to diverge on a bit of 90s-nostalgia here (told you I was old) - were a time when you could make some pretty weird-ass music and not be shunted off into obscure college-radio-land where only like six dudes in Big Black t-shirts knew who you were and would argue whether your band sold out when you signed to Merge or when you opened for Screaming Trees. I mean, we used to hear bands like Primus, the eels and the Butthole Surfers on alternative radio. Granted, they were some of the more mainstream songs those bands put out, but still - the Butthole Surfers! On the radio! Man, sometimes I really fucking miss the 90s.
3. For a few years I thought of the Lips solely as the "She Don't Use Jelly" band, until the day my ex-husband brought home a gag gift for me. He and a bunch of guys he worked with - Paul Oakenfold fans, the lot of them, if that tells you anything - had gotten a box of CDs at the office, and he gave it to me, smirking while he did so. I grabbed the CD out of his hands and shrieked - it was "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." I had heard fantastic things about the CD, and rightfully so, as it contains some of the prettiest, most emotionally resonant music I had heard in a while.
4. Which is why I nearly teared up when they played "Do You Realize?" as the encore. The song contains the lyrics: "Do you realize/That everyone you know someday will die/And instead of saying all your goodbyes, let them know/You realize that life goes fast/It's hard to make the good times last/You realize the sun doesn't go down/It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round." That song, coupled with the confetti falling on our heads and the bright lights of the stage and the swelling percussion, practically caused me to have a spiritual experience while standing in the middle of a crowd of strangers.
5. I was actually at the show alone, a fact that caused me no end of consternation and had me considering staying at home. The last time I went to a show alone, I was 19 and it was to see Liz Phair in Providence and it was under some really upsetting circumstances, and I felt so awkward and weird the entire time I was there, like everyone was looking at me and wondering who the big dorkface was who went to shows by herself. Thirteen years later, I was plagued with some of those same concerns but this time I went anyway. And I'll tell you what, I actually felt kind of cool being there by myself, because it was clear I was there to see a show and not to see or be seen. (Not that anyone who saw me would know who I was anyway.)
6. I had nothing to fear, because unlike every other general admission show I have ever been to in my entire life, the other members of the audience were unfailingly, beautifully polite. Usually people throw elbows on their way to get beer or they push your arm and cause you to spill beer on yourself or they step on your foot and then glare at you when you have the audacity to say "ouch!" Not this time. No, instead, people said, "I'm sorry, I need to move by you" and "I just need to get over here really quick, my apologies." When someone bumped my foot, she turned around and said, "Oh, I am so sorry!" I was flabbergasted by all of the close-contact kindness - until I shuffled past the merch table. There hanging on the wall, was a t-shirt that said, "Flaming Lips - Be Nice to Each Other." You have got to love a band that urges people to BE NICE. Not to break things or give your girlfriend rugburns because you are screwing her so hard or any of that nonsense. Just be nice! So refreshing!
7. Some of my favorite live-show moments have come when the audience sings along with the band for an entire song. When I saw U2 in 1997, I was part of a stadium full of people singing "Pride (In the Name of Love)." When I saw Wilco last year, everyone sang "Jesus Etc." When I saw Ani DiFranco, everyone sang "32 Flavors." Last night, everyone sang "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," and it was no less awesome. And I mean that in the literal sense of the word, that I was filled with awe by the sense that I had joined a stream of humanity that was all taking part in the same thing at the same time, that was all thinking the same thing and feeling the same thing. I wonder if that is what nirvana might feels like, where you lose your sense of yourself as an individual, and in exchange gain the joy that comes from being part of something bigger than yourself. I don't know but I bet it's pretty damned close.
8. The sheer amount of effort put forth by the band in their attempts to throw what amounted to a big old party for us was impressive, and touching even. I mean, at this point the big plastic ball, the people dressed as animals, the strobes and the smoke and the confetti and the balloons are pretty well-known, but even so, I imagine it would have been hard to be a jaded jerk standing in the midst of all of the confetti raining down on your head. I have to imagine, because I don't really know, as I make it a practice to avoid approaching the world as if I have already seen everything and so why bother. (Because honestly? How boring. Why not just kill yourself and be done with it if the world has so little to offer you.) And anyway, I'd never seen anything like that before, and it was really, really cool. I think even the crustiest hipster, even the ones who saw the Butthole Surfers when they had the lady that danced naked onstage with them, would have dug it. It would have been hard not to, especially after the big Jumbotron half-moon gave the entire audience a close-up view of the reverie in Wayne Coyne's eyes.
9. Oh, and did I mention that they make really good music? Because they do. I bet even without the spectacle and the party atmosphere, it would have been a really great show.