The Flaming Lips at the Palms in Las Vegas – 9-16-07

(Originally posted on on 9-22-07)

It is funny how the Flaming Lips just kind of snuck up on me. I had never heard of them until the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in 2001, and even then I only came across them on accident when the album was being streamed online by AOL in pre-release. The title completely caught me off guard and made me smile, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. And really, that in a nutshell has pretty much been my whole experiences with the band ever since – continually doing something that catches me off guard and makes me smile. I think I connect mostly with their music for their alternately goofy and wise lyrics and for their seemingly endlessly restless searching nature. And now I am a fan – as big a fan as I can be of anything, anyway…

So, when I was sitting at my desk at home last Thursday working and an email came through asking if I wanted a chance at winning two free tickets to the show that Sunday in Las Vegas, I thought what the hell. All I had to do was reply to the email and be one of the first 150 to do so. On Friday night the news came – I was one of the winners. I took a few minutes to soak up the joyful feeling of winning (it is such a nice feeling being a winner, it happens so rarely) and then I started to panic.

First – I’m not a concert going kind of person. I mean, I love live music, I really do. However, I really hate being pressed up against by potentially unhygienic strangers in a possibly claustrophobic situation in which there is pending worshipful adoration (if I were a multi-millionaire industrialist, I would be Howard Hughes). And all three parts of that sentence carry almost equal weight, with the last one being the worst of the three if I had to choose. I rarely adore – and worship is a whole other complicated discussion.

Second – I have very few friends or acquaintances that like the Flaming Lips as much as I do, let alone even know who they are.

And third – the show was Sunday – I only had a day to get there and to track someone down that would appreciate and could afford a last minute trip to Vegas just to see them play. Let’s face it, unlike me, most people have lives and responsibilities that come first. To start I called my friends that knew the Flaming Lips and liked them, I then called friends that I have had forever and hadn’t seen in a long time, and I resorted to sending out my own personal email blast to select people that fit my criteria from my address book. By this time, though, I had decided to go regardless.

Finally, with few responses and zero commitments, I caught a flight to Vegas by burning some frequent flyer rewards and reserved a room at the Palms, just barely missing OJ Simpson.

The show was scheduled to start at 8 PM. At 7 PM I made my way downstairs from my room to where the line was forming for the show and found where the online winners were supposed to queue up. There I met two people that had won also and drove in from San Francisco just to catch the show. While we were chatting a couple from Portland joined us and they too had flown in at the last minute. We were cleared to enter and we made our way to the front of the stage where it faced the pool. Here I met a guy from Las Vegas who won a free ticket in a local promotion and another online winner from Sacramento. People continued to stream in and everyone was excited, expectant and surprisingly relaxed.

Just after 8 PM the band came on. I was right up next to the stage – the stage monitors an arm’s length away.

I was probably, in retrospect, too close since I was inside the speaker line – during the songs I couldn’t hear the vocals – but that didn’t really matter in the end, everyone around me knew the lyrics and sang along and between sets I could hear the band speaking just fine.

They started with Do You Realize? and afterwards said that it was usually their last song they perform. They then asked everyone to applaud like it was the end of the show and they would pretend to come out and do an extended encore. The crowd jumped right in and obliged. The band left the stage and then returned as the chanting got louder and as promised delivered a full set.

And that is how it started.

Before I give you the full set list, I want to describe a couple of things that stood out:

The audience was pretty diverse – there were older people and younger people, hipsters and geeks (though really isn’t hipster-geek all chic right now?), people of all ethnicities and for the most part everyone was pretty well behaved, which went a long ways towards helping me deal with my live music concerns.

About half way through, though, I felt something tickling up against my calf and as I looked around to see what was going on there was a young hipster fella just finishing adjusting his pants fly. I looked down at the ground and saw a fresh puddle and then I looked back at him. This all went back towards my concerns about how to deal with live music. The first thing that crossed my mind was a Kung Fu move from when I trained and taught regularly and then the second thing that crossed my mind was that the first thing that crossed my mind was probably the result of a contact high from some of the pot smoke floating around, and the third thing to cross my mind is that I should exercise benevolence and let the kid live – it was a Flaming Lips show after all and he probably didn’t want to miss any of the show and lose his place in the crowd. I now attribute this last thought to probably being a result of the contact high as well.

Right around the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, which Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, set up as a type of anti-war anthem, a fairly drunk looking guy (for some reason I think he was a marine or ex-marine, but I am not sure why I think this) made his way on stage and said something to the effect of, “Why do you keep bashing the war effort, man?” The guy had a relatively aggressive pose, but honestly he looked more hurt or heart broken to me than truly angry. To Coyne’s credit, as the man was escorted off the stage, he brushed the whole thing off to complaints about the music being too loud rather than making something bigger of it than it was, and I believe I appreciated that gesture from him more than anything else that night.

Additionally, I had several moments where I clapped along when everyone else did and when I sang along with the band and when I swayed in unison with the crowd – which is, if you know me, pretty uncharacteristic.

The show itself touched on parts of a good part of their career and didn’t focus on their most recent release to the exclusion of everything else as sometimes happens when a band goes on the road to promote the latest and greatest.

The set list (with comments where I think it helpful) was as follows:

1.Do You Realize? (this is probably their best known song next to She Don’t Use Jelly – and, to me, sums up pretty succinctly the two kinds of songs that they make that draws me to them as a band)
2.Tapsmir (which is a mash-up of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and the military funeral dirge Taps, honestly, I didn’t catch onto this at the time, probably because I don’t think the bugle was working correctly)
3.Free Radicals (the audience was enthusiastically encouraged to sing along and during the chorus yell out a popular profanity as an exclamation point)
4.Fight Test
5.Mountain Side (this song was accompanied by video behind the band of a car continually crashing in time with the beat – which really was pretty cool)
6.Vein of Stars
7.Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (done almost completely as a sing along with the audience and stripped down to almost nothing – much more fun than I thought it would be live)
8.Riding to Work in the Year 2025
9.Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung
10.Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
11.Taps/Waiting for a Superman (this was accompanied on the big screen behind them with footage from the video to the song)
12.The WAND
13. Race For The Prize
And for the encore – She Don’t Use Jelly

The show was loud and fun and intimate and messy and poorly organized and sweet and profane and there was confetti and big balloons and paper streamers and a fog machine and dancing Santas and dancing Aliens and I am glad I went. And I am glad I went alone – I don’t think that I would have been able to enjoy my first Lips’ show as purely as I did if I had gone with someone else.

At the risk of sounding overly effusive I just want to say that I really, really dig the Flaming Lips. I dig them deeply. I dig them because their music makes me feel like I am not quite the lonesome geek that I sometimes feel. I dig them because they repeatedly show me that they have the ability to catch me off guard and make me smile. I dig them because I found them on my own and I don’t have to share them with anyone to enjoy them. I dig them because Wayne can’t sing in any commonly expected sense and he is completely unrepentant of this and it works. And I dig them because they follow their muse as wholeheartedly as possible, the same way that I wish I could.

The show and the experience, simply, was brilliant fun. And that isn’t because of anything premeditated that they did or because of anything outstanding or unusual that happened, it is because they were who they are and they gave it their all and they had fun doing it.

I hope to see them again sometime soon – but maybe the next time with a big group of friends.

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