Monday, September 25, 2006

It's All a Mystery

I've been listening to the Flaming Lips a lot lately.

Their music is powerful and etheral and, to me, feels hopeful and despairing at the same time. Kind of dreamy-happy-achey. For reasons I won't get into, that seems to match my mood of late (or maybe always?) pretty closely. I think "Fight Test" has about 346 plays on my iTunes. I've been working my way through their albums trying to make up for the fact that up until a few months ago I was one of those people whose knowledge of the Lips didn't extend far beyond "She Don't Use Jelly," from my early days in college. I was really missing out.

Last week it came across my radar that they would be playing at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York on Sunday and Monday, and I knew I had to seize the moment. Luckily I convinced a recently mopey friend to drop 50 bucks on Craiglist-obtained tickets, under the auspices that it would give him something to look forward to.

I was probably overly excited for the Flaming Lips show, given that it had been so built up in my mind.
Like most things you get excited about -- a new job, a new person, your favorite sports team, a restaurant with great review -- that excitement makes you trepidatious. With excitement comes the potential to be let down, for whatever you're buzzing about to fall short of your hopes, to endure disappointment for the three hundred thousandth soul-crushing time. It's why I try to set my expectations bar low. But I couldn't help reveling in the anticipation a little bit. Every once in awhile I indulge myself and allow my hopes to rise.

Arriving at Hammerstein, I winced at the aural assault of the opening act, some noise-band performance-art travesty named Deerhoof. Wishing to the heavens that I had thought to bring earplugs, we cringed as the lead singer, a little Japanese lady in ponytails, hopped around on stage singing "Bunny bunny bunny bunny BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY" while making one-fingered ears behind her own head. I wished only that she would 1) fall over and 2) shut up. I curtailed my high hopes. If the Flaming Lips had chosen *this* for their opener, I thought, how good could they be live?

The answer: very, very good, verging on the sublime. Somehow they managed to sound better live than they do on studio albums (something that's all too infrequent, I find) and the show part of the show was... stunning. To recount it would sound cheesey and tacky, but let me assure you that it was beautiful. Wayne Coyne began the show walking over the crowd in a clear man-sized gerbil ball, supported by the raised and loving hands of his screaming audience. Once the music started, balloons the size of Volkswagens were unleashed on the crowd (all of whom had been given laser pointers). These glowing orbs floated around in the air, kept aloft by the jumping, dancing audience. Confetti cannons showered the audience in happy explosions of ribbons. The vibe was nothing short of a joyful, euphoric love-fest. The music moved everyone.

If you have a chance to see the Flaming Lips, go.

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