The act with the most buzz was by far The Flaming Lips. They’re known for putting on an over-the-top show complete with mass amounts of balloons and confetti, but this was something else. A massive 15 foot-tall pink robot made of balloons trounced through the crowd to attack lead-singer Wayne Coyne for “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1” (my favorite Flaming Lips song). Coyne crawled into a human-sized hamster ball and rolled right over me to sing from a platform placed in the crowd. To top it all off was a stunt the band couldn’t have planned. A little boy named Archie took center stage after losing his parents and getting dragged uncomfortably on stage by Coyne. The band dedicated its encore song “Realize” to him as the crowd chanted “Archie, Archie, Archie.” (Archie, Coyne 2016)
It was without a doubt one of the best performances I saw that weekend and one of the best I’ve probably ever seen. But, here’s the thing, I don’t really like the music of The Flaming Lips. I used to think it was just the weird distortion and electronic sounds I didn’t like, but now I like stuff that’s much more distorted and wacky than what The Flaming Lips do. Certain songs are great, but I just can’t seem to get behind a full album.
Thankfully, my failing to enjoy The Flaming Lips music doesn’t have to ruin the performance at Nelsonville. Plenty of rock bands have based their whole shtick on appearance and performance over arguably lack luster musical excellence. Live performance is as much as visual show as it is an audio soundscape, and no where was that more evident than with The Flaming Lips.
In my mind, David Bowie was the first to really start this trend on the scale it is today. He started all the characters, the costumes the over-the-top stage sets. Bowie is also someone I have to admit I don’t care for musically (sorry), but I would see a show in a heartbeat. Technically, it goes back further than that if you think of The Rolling Stone’s on-stage sex appeal, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper persona, Little Richard wilin’ out on stage or Elvis’ leg twist.
Likewise, there are plenty of bands that are technically remarkable but boring as can be live. I love Dawes to death (shout out to the group’s new album “All Your Favorite Bands”) but when they play on stage it’s just them standing there. As as a long-time fan I love listening but they aren’t winning anyone over. That’s why when the Black Keys graduated to stadium tours they had to ramp up the live show. The duo brought out big screens, a giant disco ball and cool shadow effects to get the crowd going.
There aren’t too many bands like Dawes I love so much that I’ll go see their boring live performance, so The Flaming Lips were a good reminder of what a great performance can do.