First of all thanks to Live Nation for the two complimentary tickets to last week's Flaming Lips show at the Molson Ampitheatre. Every summer I get that itch to go to a summer music festival and I'd scratched that itch last month with the Toronto Island Concert. While the Molson Ampitheatre as a music venue borders on pure hatred for me, beggars can't be choosers when it means getting to see The Flaming Lips live. Bringing a mini-festival atmosphere with them, in tow with the Lips were Spoon, Tokyo Police Club and Fang Island. Last week's show was the fourth time I've seen The Flaming Lips live, better than their truncated set in 2006 at the Toronto Virgin Festival, but only slightly less euphoric when I saw them at Coachella in 2004 or Sasquatch in 2006. So four years since I last experienced The Flaming Lips live, and I was itching to see them again. My brother came along for the show with me, and having misread our tickets we ended up sitting in row C of section 203 [excellent seats, by the way] although we should have been in row J; as fate would have it, the rightful ticket-holders of our seats did come, and we moved a few seats to our left and never budged, and it was the most perfect view one could have for a show at the Molson Ampitheartre.
Tokyo Police Club: photo by Michael Ligon
We arrived too late for first openers Fang Island but came partway into locals Tokyo Police Club's set. It was still light out, and it was a sparse crowd and for all the energy the band seemed to exude on stage (and yes, the band were working up a visible sweat), it seemed all for naught. You'd think that at least the crowd on the floors might be more active, but it was more like a sea of stillness. Even the band's 'hit' "Yr English Is Good" failed to get the crowd going.
Britt Daniel of Spoon: photo by Michael Ligon
It was soon obvious that none of the bands on the bill would even come close to upstaging the headliners - of course, few bands could upstage The Flaming Lips. While Austin's Spoon are amidst there most fervent popularity, having headlined Sound Academy in Toronto back in April of this year, there's also a consensus that they aren't the most interesting band to watch live. Thank God, for the music. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, dressed summery in white v-neck t-shirt and white slacks got down to business leading the group through a selection of new and old songs, mostly from their last 3 full-lengths, the highlights being "I Saw The Light" from their newest album Transference, a bunch from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga including "Don't Make Me A Target", "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", "The Underdog", and "Black Like Me", and "I Summon You" and "I Turn My Camera On" from Gimme Fiction. The occasional horn section was used to great effect on several tracks including "Underdog" and "Cherry Bomb", the latter Britt dedicting to their "no. 1 cheerleader", referring to a girl dancing very enthusiastically in the aisle coincidentally in the same section where my brother and I were sitting. It was a no- frills set overall and ultimately an opportunity to hear some good tunes.
The Flaming Lips: photo by Michael Ligon
Ever since I'd first seen The Flaming Lips live in 2004 at Coachella, their live stage production has remained virtually the same. Confetti cannons, giant confetti-filled balloons, dancing animals, video projection back-drop, and of course frontman Wayne Coyne and his now famous walking over the crowd while in a giant transparent plastic ball are all now standard components of any Lips live show. It never gets old but given that this was my fourth time seeing them live, it is predictable. Having said that, since it had been four years since I last saw them live, this time Wayne's giant ball walk and the show's initial reams of confetti and sudden launch of a mulititude of colorouful giant balloons into the crowd were every bit as impactful as I'd remembered. Every time I experience that I think, this is the happiest place in the world right now and I am here. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world.
As the confetti settled, the show followed suit as The Flaming Lips focused on the musical portion of the evening. I've largely been ignorant of their last two full-lengths, Embryonic and At War With The Mystics, so to hear the former's "I Can Be A Frog"(with the band prompting the audience to mimic the animal sound for every animal mentioned) while a fun, almost child-like tune, didn't motivate to want to listen to the album. At War With The Mystics' "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" is a cool little tune although far from their best. On the other hand, their 1995 'hit' "She Don't Use Jelly", came out the speakers with it's great guitar lick with more impact than I ever remembered. It's a shame the band didn't play anything from their orch-pop classic The Soft Bulletin but the band were simply majestic on the Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots cuts including the hazy "In the Morning of the Magicians", their toned down rendition of "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1" and their last-hurrah, confetti-filled encore of "Do You Realize".
While the evening's vibe remained mostly upbeat, Mr. Coyne's also never been shy about injecting a few political statements during a show. He expressed his continued distaste for Bush and his support for Obama, spoke about love and peace, and during one song, in a symbolic gesture wore two giant laser hands holding them up to the heavens. Coyne would be more explicit in his views later on as he told the crowd that the band would perform their rendition of "Taps" (bugle accompanied with dreamy keyboards) every night until the war in Iraq was over - as the first notes of
"Taps" emanated from the bugle that Coyne held up the mic, he prompted the audience to hold up the peace sign with their fingers, as an eery stillness fell over the crowd. The Flaming Lips are at a point in their career that much of what they do during their live shows seems self-indulgent, even schtick. But there's also no doubt in my mind that they are nothing but sincere.
Photos: The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tokyo Police Club @ Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto (July 8, 2010)
MySpace: Tokyo Police Club
MySpace: The Flaming Lips