20 years ago, The Flaming Lips and The Black Keys would have not been considered a headlining act. Hell, even 10 years ago, it seemed impossible.
Think about it. With The Flaming Lips, you have an Oklahoma psychedelic rock ensemble filled with strobe lights, children's baby dolls, distortion and smoke bombs led by a front man who is the second coming of Ziggy Stardust. All the while, The Black Keys are two seemingly harmless, average white dudes from a basement in Ohio who happen to have an affinity for largely overlooked Delta blues icon Junior Kimbrough.
But thankfully, by some twisted shift in the musical cosmos, both entities have pushed their way to the front of the touring group pack, each performance inching closer to the eventual dream, now reality, of playing venues named Madison Square Garden or Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Just outside of Greenville, South Carolina, the Charter Amphitheatre is one of those venues, while looking at a tour schedule, you find yourself saying, "Where the fuck is Simpsonville?" It's a surprisingly easy-to-access venue, where, aesthetically, it's the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) meets "King of the Hill".
Through a torrential downpour, lightning, mud and a few hours of wondering even if the show was going to go on, the gates finally opened to a flood of eager Southern belles and in sundresses and country gents in jeans and cowboy boots.
Due to the weather and an impending venue curfew, the Lips set was cut short to less than an hour. Decked out in an aquamarine suit and face paint, lead singer Wayne Coyne leaped up onto his elevated platform with his Willy Wonka swagger, welcoming the crowd to join him down the river of chocolate.
Pulling mostly from their latest album The Terror, the band brought the listener to a murkier place compared to past live experiences. The sound was sinister, almost angry and terrifying at times. Though jovial and talkative between selections, Coyne aura seemed a man humbled, yet defiant to a troubling past. But, just when I tried to put my finger on it, the group launched into "The W.A.N.D" as if someone ripped down the curtains in a dark room, unleashing the sunshine.
Though they've been running through the same exact set all this year, The Black Keys burst onstage amid a deafening roar from the soaking wet and muddied masses. A grin rolled across the face of Dan Auerbach as he bounced around the stage like a teenager with a new guitar and amp in his parents' garage. Conversely, Patrick Carney is all business behind the drum kit, with a look of determination and hands that hit with a sledgehammer force. Their melodies are tight, razor-sharp when need be. The duo has the routine down, now all that remains is knowing where to make adjustments for rebel shock-n-awe, something executed with perfection during "Howlin' for You" or "Gold on the Ceiling."
Personally, one would have preferred the Lips as the show closer, seeing as their live set in more engaging and energetic, whereas the Keys are straightforward rock-n-roll, with no time to stop and soak in the moment. It's truly amazing the amount of musical output and creative evolution The Black Keys and The Flaming Lips continue to pursue with reckless abandon. Both groups remain cornerstones of my generation, each as unique and vital to modern music as their predecessors were.