Tuesday, May 30, 2006

THE FLAMING LIPS and DEERHOOF in ROUND THE BEND (guest starring BECK, THE DECEMBERISTS and STEVE MALKMUS as the Beaver)


Over the past weekend me and a few friends made a trek up to Bend, Oregon to imbibe some northwest brew, eat some food, and most importantly, see some music. We had tickets for the Sunday Deerhoof, Steve Malkmus and Flaming Lips extravaganza, but Beck was playing a day earlier at the same venue, so we figured we'd give that show a shot despite the fact we had no tickets. Luckily we had a special Humboldt All Access Pass (wink wink nudge nudge) and were granted a secret password by the grizzled security gnomes to gain entry. We missed almost all of M. Ward's set (he did seem to unexpectedly bring the rock on the one tune I heard). The Decemberists were next up. I'd always found their songs to be too twee by half, but in an energetic live setting they gained quite a bit of punch and power in addition to the pop. Though lead singer Colin Meloy's voice is just this side of grating, his literate lyrics picked up the slack, and a highlight was their version of The Smiths' 'This Sporting Life' (Morrissey's obviously a prime role model for literate singers with grating voices). We then waited for an interminable time as techs tried to figure out was was wrong with the big video screen behind the stage (ahh, the logistics of the big rock show). Finally the band took the stage to the thundering sounds of 'Devil's Haircut'. Beck's band was competent and energetic, professional in both the positive and negative connotations of that word. They did basically a greatest hits set. Not that I'm complaining, but it was heavy on cuts from both the new record and Odelay, and there were no songs at all from Mutations (perhaps his best record), much to the chagrin of my friend Brendan. As a theatrical experience, it was quite entertaining as well--at the center of the stage was a miniature stage with marionettes of all the band members who mimed the songs as the real band played them and this was all projected on a big screen (we now realized why they'd taken such pains to fix the video problem). According to Beck, this was called 'The Puppetron', which was a pretty good joke on how at these kind of large scale concerts most of the audience is staring an image of the band rather than the real thing. Add to this a rap done in a scary/funny grizzly bear suit and you have a very entertaining rock spectacle (though I have a sneaking suspicion that someone else was in that suit, and Beck was probably sipping Evian in his air-conditioned tour bus and phoning it in by remote control). At 75 minutes, it was a very short set though, and if I'd paid 50 bucks for a ticket I would have been peeved. Thankfully, since none of my money went to tithe L. Ron Hubbard and I had low expectations I enjoyed myself. I do wish I had brought a camera. I also wish I'd had the foresight to bring a joke banner to the show I thought of earlier in the day that said:

WHERE IT'S AT? NOT SCIENTOLOGY!

Click here for a short video clip of Deerhoof in action (it's a bit shaky, but I love the gal shooting the devil horns).

Thankfully I had the camera on hand (thanks much Liz) for a smoking opening set by Deerhoof the next day. I was a bit apprehensive because the band had just lost Chris Cohen, their bass player, the week before and were playing their first show as a trio. I needn't have worried. Their sound was bit stripped down, but it was still the essentially same band. I first saw them 3 years ago at a now defunct rock club in Eureka (a two minute clip of that performance can be found here). They blew me away with their idiosyncratic noise/pop/jazz blend, and I've followed them ever since. Their last CD, The Runners Four, was my favorite record of last year. Unlike many other "experimental" bands, they have a humor, joy and craft in their music that is a far cry from the self serious chin strokers who think they are pushing the boundaries of music. Deerhoof have more in common with sui generis artists like Thelonious Monk and Captain Beefheart than most of the trend chasing indie rock crowd. Luckily they had a quite few fans there at the show, one of whom was The Lips' Wayne Coyne, who watched enraptured on the side of the stage through the entire set. Wayne later came out to hype the crowd into bringing them back for an encore, obviously enamored with the band. I was happy to find out that they're coming back to our neck of the woods in August, fresh off a summer tour opening for Radiohead (thanks be to Michael). I need another Deerhoof fix soon. They've also just released an online EP on their website that has cover versions of songs by the Beatles, My Bloody Valentine, and Canned Heat.

If Deerhoof showed us all that is right with indie rock, Steve Malkmus and the Jicks showed us much that is wrong. Malkmus came on stage with a snarky comment that, like many of his lyrics, seemed to be clever and cutting but actually said nothing--"Thanks to the corporations and you. Especially you". This set the tone for his performance, which was perfunctory and dull, especially compared to the passion and energy of the band preceeding him. His too cool for school attitude would be slightly annoying coming from an 18 year old, but coming from a 35 year old man it just seemed pathetic. He whipped out a few offhand episodes of guitar heroics, but his heart was obviously not in it. Hey Steve, if you really don't want to play to festival type crowds, then don't take the gig OK? Earlier in the evening I saw his erstwhile Pavement partner Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) lurking outside the bar where we had a pre-show drink. I predict that Pavement will reunite within 3 years, cynics that they are. But will anyone still care?

The Flaming Lips may sometimes be corny, but they are never cynical. Before they had even played the first song, Wayne Coyne had already fired a multi-colored streamer gun numerous times over the head of the audience, crowd surfed in a giant translucent plastic bubble and wafted numerous balloons over the crowd to create a carnival atmosphere. It seemed that the show faded from black and white to technicolor when they took the stage, and it wasn't just because of the stage effects. I've heard the Flaming Lips' shows described as a secular humanist revival, and there's something to that. There were Aliens and Santas, naked women poolside rubbing mustard and mayo all over themselves, a singalong version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, a duet with a nun hand puppet, and just to show life isn't all warm and fuzzy, an encore of Black Sabbath's War Pigs scored to scenes of war atrocities and the glowering faces of Rumsfeld, Cheney and W. Their brand of Vegas dadaist spectacle was amazing and even moving at times.

It's obviously hard to put a Lips show into words, so I'll let some pictures do the talking....and if this post doesn't encourage my regular reader in Oklahoma to leave a comment, I don't know what will.





3 Comments:

Blogger Brandon Hobson said...

Excellent pics. The Lips experience is like nothing else. Am I the only regular reader in Oklahoma City?
Brandon

11:19 PM  
Blogger Pinky Royale said...

Well, I'm not from OK and it sucked that you couldn't be there on Thursday for the Country Tesaers show... what am I saying?... If I could handle the arena crowd I would have been there, by your side, no doubt drunk and saying rude things in your ear, to enjoy the Lips.;.;. another time... and I can blame you for missing Mogwai and Earth... but all for another day... come sleep on my shitty couch, eat my food, and fuck my mom... food eater... motherfucker...!

1:06 AM  
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11:05 AM  

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