Monday, July 12th, 2010
Oh My Gawd!!!
The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tokyo Police Club and Fang Island at The Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto
Frank YangI’ve previously bemoaned the dearth of festivals in the 416 this Summer, but on Thursday night at the Molson Amphitheatre, if you squinted just right, it certainly looked like a festival. Sure, it was only four bands deep but it certainly had many of the necessary bases covered – buzzy young up-and-coming act? Check. Hometown representation? Check. Critically acclaimed, indie cred-toting vets? Check. Mind-bending, world-class headliner? Check and check.
Providence by way of Brooklyn’s Fang Island represented the rookies, and their 6:30 start time got them a good idea of what it was like at the last major festival to go down at this same venue, which is to say V Fest 2009 and the swathes of empty seats which many of the bands played to that weekend. But if the fact that people hadn’t made it down from work was bumming the five-piece out, it didn’t show; at several points in their set, they commented on how excited they were to be playing such a large stage and touring with The Flaming Lips. Of course, that was in between their unloading the massive, triple-guitar tapping, four-part harmony epics from their self-titled debut. Like prog rock edited down to just the crescendos, Fang Island’s set was a torrent of melodies and harmonies unleashed heavenwards. Yes, there is hype. Believe it.
I went digging for this post and was surprised to find it’s from only four years ago. That’s how long I’ve been acquainted with Tokyo Police Club, and it’s remarkable to see how far they’ve come in that time. Certainly, from day one they evidenced a knack for writing a good pop song but the sort of antics I mentioned in that first review were part of why I’d always dismissed them as being you know, for kids! Which was fine, since they weren’t especially aged themselves. But with their second full-length, the recently-released Champ, I was surprised at how much more mature-sounding they had become, trading more on melody and sophistication than shouts and handclaps and without sacrificing much at all in the way of energy or hooks. It’s got some weariness around the edges, which suits them – they’re still young, but have now been at this a while; the lines are well-earned. On stage for their first hometown show in support of the new record, however, they still bounced around with fresh-faced enthusiasm and while it’s hard to say if this was necessarily their crowd – not sure how much the Flaming Lips and Tokyo Police Club fan base venn diagrams intersect – they were appreciated.
Spoon may have just come through town in March as the big-name/big-venue headliners on an impressive bill of their own, the culmination of years of hard work and building their fan base, here they were again playing a supporting role and seemed perfectly fine with it. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to step out of the spotlight that’s been on them for most of this year – minor details, but seeing Britt Daniel take the stage in an immaculate white ensemble (but with black shoes – shame!), a proper upright piano to go along with Eric Harvey’s usual fortress of keyboards and a full, locally-recruited horn section to add a shiny exclamation mark to some numbers. But for all the polish, this Spoon is inherently rough and spiky; more like a dirty spork. And even with a set loaded with “hits” – though no “Everything Hits At Once” – their lean, clipped rock still felt dark and clubby, even in a big amphitheatre. And despite the size of the venue, I actually enjoyed this set somewhat more than the Sound Academy show as I was a) able to see and b) got to hear some of the songs I missed in that show’s encore on account of having to catch a cab – like “The Underdog”. This time with horns. Yes.
My history with The Flaming Lips is kind of long and twisty, and best summarized as they’re being the weirdest boundary of my listening in the late ’90s to a near-obsession at the turn of the century (I paid a guy in Kalamazoo, MI far too much for CD-Rs of the then-deleted Zaireeka because, well, I had to have it) to being kind of a prodigal, peripheral interest over the last couple records. Neither the overcooked At War With The Mystics nor last year’s sprawlingly messy Embryonic hit the spot with me, and it was somewhat alarming to me as a fan that their artistic energies seemed to be going more into the live show than writing songs.
But at least there were those live shows. I’d gotten a concentrated dose of the live Lips madness in 2006, seeing them twice in a month at Lollapalooza in Chicago and then again just over a month later at Toronto’s inaugural Virgin Festival, though that wasn’t a proper dose as their headlining slot famously went over curfew and the show was cut at barely half an hour. And despite promises to make it up to us soon, it took them almost four years to find their way back. Far too long, certainly, but you know? It’s hard to hold a grudge against a man in a giant plastic bubble firing confetti cannons at you.
It’s funny, but for all the reservations and criticisms I have for The Flaming Lips circa 2010, they all fade to nothingness as soon as the show begins. You know what it’s going to be – the bubble walk, the costumed dancers, the plumes of confetti (okay, the band entrance via LED-generated female bits was new) – but it just doesn’t get old. Though the general admission area allowed for personal space for most of the night, it was pretty well packed in up front by the time Wayne Coyne strode out onto them in his well-worn space bubble as the band led off with the instrumental, “The Fear”. When that bit of ceremony was done, it was time to fill the amphitheatre with confetti and get to proving my theory about their being less a musical entity than a theatrical one mostly false. Most of the set drew from either Embryonic or Mystics and while many of the visual aspects of their show were familiar from 2006, they clearly weren’t just delivering the same show. It had morphed and evolved along with the material, and as such what had been technicolour and cartoony circa Mystics was now accordingly weirder and trippier, in keeping with the darker, experimental vibe of Embryonic (though thankfully no agitated monkeys or Coyne’s nakedness made an appearance).
It was a little ways into the show that I realized that though I had seen the Lips live twice before, I had never actually seen them do a full performance (the truncated V has been covered and at Lolla, there were like a million other bands on at the same time so I’m sure I scurried after a bit) and as such, my impressions of the show were probably skewed by the sheer sensory overload of their grand entrance. But watching them once they’d gotten down to business – relatively speaking – it was pleasantly surprising just how much of a proper rock band they still were. When Coyne wasn’t working the crowd, which was a lot of the time sure, he never neglected his duties as lead singer and both Steve Drozd and Michael Ivins were all business with their myriad musical duties and Kliph Scurlock – whose “officialness” as a Flaming Lip is still unclear to me despite having manned the kit for over a decade – did a great job of making you forget that Drozd was an amazing drummer before moving to the guitarist/multi-instrumentalist role. It was a shame that with so much emphasis put on the recent material, that the truly classic Soft Bulletin – the record that will define the Flaming Lips in history – was ignored completely, but it was nice that they reached back to 1993 for Transmissions From The Satellite Heart for “She Don’t Use Jelly” and the acoustic “Yoshimi” was pure loveliness. And of course they encored with “Do You Realize?”. Of course.
The real magic of a Flaming Lips show, however, is how it manages to transcend its context as either rock concert or circus sideshow and become something truly unique and magical. Coyne comes across as just as much a prophet up there as he does a carnival barker or rock singer – though I’ve never heard any other prophet call his congregation “motherfuckers” quite so much – bringing a message of peace and love that never felt naive, but seemed to acknowledge through the madness of its presentation that asking to simply love one another is one of the most complex and incomprehensible requests anyone could ever make. The Lips get that, they do. But they’re asking anyways. And they’re doing it with laserhands.
The Flaming Lips. There’s nothing else like it.
There’s reviews of the show at The Toronto Sun, eye, Exclaim, Radio Free Canuckistan, Chart, Panic Manual and BlogTO. Spinner talks to Fang Island about hitting the road with The Lips, Blare has an interview with Tokyo Police Club and Spinner, eye and The Montreal Gazette have Lips features.
Photos: The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tokyo Police Club, Fang Island @ The Molson Canadian Amphitheatre – July 8, 2010
MP3: Spoon – “The Underdog”
MP3: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
MP3: Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
MP3: Spoon – “This Book Is A Movie”
MP3: Spoon – “Mountain To Sound”
MP3: Spoon – “Chips & Dip”
MP3: Spoon – “Idiot Driver”
MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “In A Cave”
MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “Juno”
MP3: Fang Island – “Daisy”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Powerless”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “I Can Be A Frog”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Watching The Planets”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “The W.A.N.D.”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Mr. Ambulance Driver”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Do You Realize?”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Part 1)”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Fight Test”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Are You A Hypnotist?”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Race For The Prize”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Waitin’ For A Superman”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “This Here Giraffe”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Bad Days”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Christmas At the Zoo”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “When You Smile”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Be My Head”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “She Don’t Use Jelly”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Turn It On”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Talkin’ ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants to Live Forever)”
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Redneck School Of Technology”
Video: Spoon – “Written In Reverse”
Video: Spoon – “The Underdog”
Video: Spoon – “Don’t You Evah”
Video: Spoon – “The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine”
Video: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
Video: Spoon – “Sister Jack”
Video: Spoon – “Jonathan Fisk”
Video: Spoon – “Small Stakes”
Video: Spoon – “Everything Hits At Once”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Wait Up (Boots Of Danger)”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Graves”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “In A Cave”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Tessellate”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Your English Is Good”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Citizens Of Tomorrow”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Cheer It On”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Nature Of The Experiment”
Video: Fang Island – “Careful Crossers”
Video: Fang Island – “Life Coach”
Video: Fang Island – “Daisy”
MySpace: The Flaming Lips
MySpace: Tokyo Police Club
MySpace: Fang Island
In advance of releasing their first new record in forever with Majesty Shredding on September 14, Superchunk are reissuing their second and third records – No Pocky For Kitty and On The Mouth – in remastered digital and analog for on August 17.
The Fly talks to Warpaint, whom they’ve declared “a band to watch”. You can do just that when they play Wrongbar on August 11 and Massey Hall supporting The xx on September 29. Their debut album is due out around that time as well.
Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers talks to Destroy Before Reading and says there’s no real reason an Archers Of Loaf reunion couldn’t happen. Crooked Fingers just released the Reservoir Songs 2 covers EP and are working on a record of new material.
Video: She & Him – “Thieves”