Show Review (Treasure Island Music Festival 10/18/09): The Flaming Lips, A Letter of Appreciation

by Dakin Hardwick on October 19, 2009

Flaming Lips

Dear Kliph, Stephen, Michael, and Wayne,

This letter has been over a decade in the making. I can pinpoint the moment that started my love affair with your band to a precise moment in time. The date was October 28th, 1997, exactly one day after my 18th birthday. I was entering in to adulthood, and learned of a band that I only had a fleeting familiarity from adolescence via the video tapes of Alternative Nation that I cherished so dearly. This band that I had forgotten about had released the most amazing records I have ever read about. 4 cds, all designed to be played simultaneously. This record is called Zaireeka, and it was an experience that I have only enjoyed on a handful of occasions, primarily because of the difficulty in staging a listening. From this point on, I knew you were a band that I needed to know, and as I learned how to be a grown-up, you were there for me the entirety of the journey thus far, and I have no intention of losing you.

In the spring of 1999, I was working in a music store in San Francisco, and I had an opportunity to listen to the follow-up record just before its release to the public.┬áThis record was known as The Soft Bulletin, and if anybody were to ask me what my all time favorite record is, this is the album I would answer with. It’s a glorious production, where every sound is perfectly placed, and you are sent on an emotional journey that is simultaneously cathartic and joyful. It is also the one record that I have gifted to people more times than any other record. If I were wealthy, I would buy enough copies to hand out to every household in the world.

A decade has passed since this wonderful album first graced my ears, and a dozen years to the month when Zaireeka first entered my world. In that time, they released records, made a wonderful science fiction/holiday film, and managed to become one of the most successful bands working today. In this month known as October, I am given the gift of a brand new Flaming Lips record, Embryonic. It manages to combine the punky psychedelia of their early works, with the experiments in layering and sparseness that they learned while recording their recent works, and made a science of in the score to Christmas On Mars. The record opens with the full throttle guitar attack of “Convinced Of The Hex” and send you on a journey through space and time where a woman can be a frog, ones hands can shake even when made of pure metal, and lands “Watching The Planets,” with a throbbing bass line by the under appreciated Michael Ivins holding together chimes and vocals winding around each other as if gravity were not applicable.

But, I digress. The true beauty of this band is within their live performances. I first saw them on tour for The Soft Bulletin, a show that had them going from town to town with a supply of FM radios and a transmitter that one could hook to a soundboard. They handed these out at the door, and you got to listen to the show in true stereo sound. Since then, they have grown too large to deal with such a thing, especially retrieving the headsets afterward. So, instead, they began increasing the visual element of the show. There were balloons and confetti and a giant video screen that showed extreme, awkward close ups of the band. As the case with any great band, word of mouth spread, and every time they came back to San Francisco, they were drawing larger crowds.

As I write this, I am still filled with the joy that was experiencing the band at the Treasure Island Music Festival. This is a music festival that takes place in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, with the lights of the city glowing off in the distance, while what is probably the greatest music festival in America goes on with the most spectacular back drop ever. This year, I got to experience a lot of great music, including a surprisingly amped up set by Bob Mould, an eclectic and horn heavy set by Beirut, and a few bands that owe a great deal to the Flaming Lips, specifically Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes and Grizzly Bear, both of whom come from a similar mold.

But, all of that is in the distant past. In the forefront of my mind is the Flaming Lips. They came out spectacularly, to the music of “In Excelsior Vaginalistic,” an instrumental piece from the soundtrack to Christmas On Mars. The band each walked out separately from the glowing vagina of a silhouette of a woman. The emerged one by one, and at the end, Wayne emerged in a giant clear bubble, and walked through the crowd. When Wayne returned to the stage, he left his bubble, and the band pounded away at the epic Soft Bulletin opener “Race For The Prize.”

At this point, I am feeling at one with the performance. As a journalist, I tend to be compelled to take notes while enjoying a show, for the sake of perfection in writing the review, but I did not wish to deter from what I was feeling, so I kept my notepad in my bag. This does mean that I will not have the songs listed in precise order, and I may have forgotten some important portions of the show, but that is doubtful.

They played a small number of songs from the most recent record, since this is a festival show, I’m sure they wanted make the large crowd feel more comfortable by concentrating on the familiar. I can guarantee we heard “See The Leaves” early in the set, because they discussed the distance between us several times, and the crowd was tight, and seemingly dancing in unison. It was very cold out, so the closeness of the audience was a pleasant feeling.

The “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” (no relation to the New York band, although Karen O has a few guest vocals on the newest Lips album) was introduced as a tribute to George W Bush leaving office, as well as to the future that Barack Obama will continue working towards. The energy from the crowd was unbelievable, singing the yeahs with great gusto when asked, but also dancing relentlessly.

Throughout the show, we were pelted with confetti, and watched the band work hard and happily, and having a thrill of a time. We were treated to a slow, plaintive version of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots,” which made me long for Yoshimi to finally move past her work as robot ninja. In an especially chilling moment, Wayne pulled out a bugle to play “Taps,” in dedication to our service men & women who are fighting unwinnable wars. He transitioned this in to the much more jubilant song “The W.A.N.D.” which pays tribute to those who work to make the world a better place.

There was a lot to cover in this show, and much to convey that I am not a good enough writer to express. I don’t think any human can express in mere words the joy this band gives out. The closed the show with another particularly moving sentiment. They performed “Do You Realize?” without anything special on the surface. They didn’t rearrange it, nor did they add an especially interesting visual. They just played the song in a pure, heartfelt manner. As the song progressed, I felt a single tear stream down my face. It was a spiritual moment, and one that could only be felt in this setting.

So, Kliph, Wayne, Stephen, and Michael, I thank you for all of the spectacular moments you’ve given me, and all the many more that are yet to come. I hope to see you next time!


Dakin Hardwick

[email protected]

PS- There are rumors of a tour where The Soft Bulletin is performed from beginning to end. Please tell me it is true, and that San Francisco is the place it comes to.

Bunny Surfing!!!

Bunny Surfing!!!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joel October 19, 2009 at 3:28 pm

This reads a lot better if you play Pearl Jam’s “I Got ID” in the background. Not sure why, but it totally worked. Kind of like how the lights on Van Ness northbound are timed AGAINST pedestrians.


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