There's really nothing like realizing it's been so long since your last possession charge that Canada will finally let you into their country again -- not that I recommend intentionally placing yourself in such a situation‚ but nonetheless‚ rather satisfying. Such was the case one month ago‚ when I ventured north of the border to see how the Canucks throw a festy. Despite never realizing that 90% of all the French I thought I couldn't understand was actually the same phrase being repeated over and over again: "Do you have a lighter?"‚ these people were ridiculously friendly. Incredibly easy access to the venue‚ a beautiful setting‚ and an all around cream-smooth operation made me instantly pledge to come for all three days next year‚ let alone all the bands I missed‚ (most regrettably Death From Above 1979.) And while a touch of Death Cab for Cutie had its allure‚ the key reason for this voyage was to see The Flaming Lips run through one of my all-time favorite albums‚ The Soft Bulletin.
Arriving at the festival grounds just as a mass out-flux of people swarmed by‚ my curiosity was quickly aroused by the realization that half the crowd had just left the grounds because The Tragically Hip were now done with their set. While shunned to Interstate dive-bars state-side‚ up North the Canadian love blares true for their drab‚ bland-pop nationals. Literally though‚ at least 5‚000 heads must have left at the end of their set -- rather amazing‚ or perhaps it was just a collective‚ sub-conscious knowledge that Death Cab was about to play one of the worst sets of their career. Plagued by monitor issues‚ guitar malfunctions‚ and the looming threat of The Flaming Lips setting up their massive light show on the adjacent stage‚ any desire to embrace Ben Gibbard's Northwest melancholy was overshadowed by the realization of how close one could then get to the line-checking Wayne Coyne and Lips crew.
Now as a long-time Flaming Lips aficionado‚ I have been time and time again thwarted by the band's lack of desire to ever play any tracks off The Soft Bulletin. I've been haunted by the echoes of 'Jelly' and 'Yoshimi' as the true rings of psychedelic passion lay dormant in their forgotten catalogue. So as the band emerged from the vagina of a giant‚ naked woman pounding a cymbal and flying through space‚ I got one of the biggest shit-eating grins I've ever friggin' had. As this show occurred a fortnight prior to their million-dollar lighting rig getting destroyed in an Oklahoma thunderstorm‚ (what the fuck was up with stage collapses this summer?!?!)‚ their audio-video syncopation was at an epically high crescendo. While past Lips gigs have left a bad taste in my mouth due to a misdirected focus on the visual aspect of the show‚ this night was a harmonious boner of everything this band knows and dreams they can be. And lest anyone be confused‚ guitarist/keyboardist/live sonic wizard‚ Steven Drozd was beyond human in what he was musically doing on that stage.
No need to run though the set-list as it was The Soft Bulletin played through‚ plus an extra half hour or so of expanded psychedelia. "Race For the Prize" was huge in the kick-off slot‚ but the unified throb of the masses really started when the bass kicked in half way through "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton." It was huge‚ and brilliant in all fashions‚ and "Holy Shit‚ the bass-drum is louder than fuckin' Moses!" "Buggin'" as well was massive‚ and played perfectly as a gelling oneness of fuzz the likes of which I've never heard the band achieve before. With any primary live experience‚ a song always rings in a slightly different fashion when you hear it live for the first time. As such‚ I was not prepared for how overwhelming "What is the Light?" would be. It was all consuming -- drawing my breath away and causing my hips to bounce all in one motion. And regardless of whatever absurdity he sometimes produces‚ Wayne Coyne has the ability to turn simple ideas into lyrical magic‚ of which "Light" is one his finer moments. Pay attention on that one if you haven't before. Moving on‚ I'd been waiting to hear "The Gash" every time I'd gone to see the Flaming Lips over the years‚ and a decade-plus of anticipation did nothing to damper my enthusiasm for the real thing. It was beautiful‚ and one of several times during the set that Coyne was visibly wiping tears from his face. At one point‚ he commented about the emotional connection to some of these songs‚ and pre-apologized for the weeping. Sure it was heavy for some‚ and weak for others‚ but for me it was a confirmation of my own ties to these tunes. You know‚ just what you want to hear…
"Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" was another one of those moments where I said to myself‚ "Why in God's name would they not play this song more often?" And despite Coyne's lament that "Sleeping on the Roof" is too slow a song to end a set with‚ its expansion into the serene electrical playground of sound the band molded was beyond ideal. For a band I know so well‚ and an album I've gone so deep with‚ I was amazed by how constantly surprising the set was. Sure‚ the giant laser-shooting-hands and the flying bear montage are nothing to neglect‚ but it was the band this night that floored me and had me secretly wiping tears from my eyes. Before the encore‚ Wayne brought up a young man and an equally spun girl who only just met each other that morning‚ and ceremoniously married them on stage as they had asked him to do prior to the set. It was hilarious‚ and awesome‚ and beyond joyous‚ and only made the "Do Your Realize?" encore all the more explosive -- one of those moments where you have to be a real cold-hearted asshole to not have an enormous smile on your face. Twas an epic night from the Flaming Lips‚ and proposed the wonder of why they can't play like that all the time.