Saturday, August 05, 2006

What it's like to watch The Flaming Lips from the side of the stage

Death Cab did a show not far from Cleveland a few days ago. The lineup was pretty stellar. Our stage had The Hold Steady, Sonic Youth, Death Cab and The Flaming Lips. The Secret Machines were on a second stage somewhere with some band that sounded a lot like Interpol. We loaded in at around 10AM since my growing megalomania prompts me to drag a dozen lights and assorted backdrops into festival settings and make everyone's day miserable. The structure was an ampitheatre-like building with a domed roof.

The inside was all wood. Designed for the symphony. Fancy.

So Wayne Coyne turns up around 11 to load in his show. This isn't really a big deal, but in my world the singer of any band, much less a well to do band who is headlining a festival, is the last person you will see at 11 AM pushing cases around. Here he is inflating that damn bubble that he rolls around in. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my one good eye.

Since they were pretty darn close to Coyahoga, Ohio Death Cab and the Flaming Lips covered REM's Coyahoga. I detest REM, but I have to say I have always really liked that song.

My day got pretty lame pretty quickly. Things stopped working, it rained and it got miserable. I wandered out into the crowd and spotted this guy who, for a moment, looked exactly like my friend Harley. I decided that he must be his evil twin. He had a shaved head, a big red beard, he was loving the Hold Steady and seemed to be generally mad at the world. I was so taken with this guy that even as I was taking his picture with ultimate stealth, I didn't notice the guy dressed as a cougar walking, rather casually, through a festival crowd.

The Hold Steady, holding it steady. I've got a real soft spot for rock bands that lack pretense and seem to always be having a good time. As I'm writing this Mates of State are soundchecking just down the hall. I kind of think they are dicks.

The backstage area was pretty sweet. They had lots of cookies, chocolate milk and video games. Andy, our production manager was really taken with this virtual reality tank game. I didn't like it so much.

Sonic Youth caught a flight from Thailand to make it to the show. In a mixup Kim Gordon wasn't booked on the flight and their lighting designer had to give her his seat. Long story short, I got to do lights for Sonic Youth. It was the middle of the day, but it was still pretty amazing. That's me gloating just a little.

The Flaming Lips went on right after us. They dragged all of their equipment, mostly without cases and mostly spray painted orange on to the stage. We started pushing cases out to our truck only to discover the trailer had been used as a staging area for the greatest show on Earth, or at least a hell of a party.

The Flaming Lips are one of those bands that can really just turn your whole day around. It's like going to see the Polyphonic Spree or Lemon Jelly. They're just so goddamn happy that you can't help but join in. Magic.

The atmosphere right before the band goes on is nothing short of chaotic. Watching it from the side of the stage, in a comfortable chair, is one of the most enjoyable experiences that I've had on this tour. One side of the stage is filled with Santa Clauses all laughing at each other and shining giant flashlights into the crowd.

The other side is filled with girl aliens doing much the same thing.

The band wanders onto the stage as their crew, dressed as superheros, ready the confetti cannons, balloons and whiskey.

And then just like's a party of epic proportions.

Viva Wayne Coyne!

Perry Farrell is Missing

Just did a bit of self-baking in Chicago. A little thing that some people have been calling Lollapalooza. Everyone I ran into was talking about the times that they had gone to see Lollapalooza as a kid, when it was a touring festival. I went one year and saw Sonic Youth, Pavement, Superchunk, Mike Watt and The Jesus Lizard. This year I saw only a few bands. I mostly stared at this thing for seven hours.

The festival was in the middle of downtown. The view was pretty cool.

Like I said, I didn't do much other than work. A friend of mine was working with Ween, but I missed their set. I saw five minutes of the Secret Machines from across the lawn. They sounded HUGE. I also watched Sleater Kinney for maybe the last time. They were so goddamn good.

Here's a video that someone in the crowd took of 'the cab's' set.

Bleeding Kansas

I was just outside of Lawrence yesterday for a bizarre little back water festival in the woods. This was an encouraging thing to see first thing in the morning.

I don't know how well poison ivy climbs, but to me this all looked like poison ivy.

The stage was situated right on a riverbank. It was a pretty ideal backdrop.

The temperature hit 101 degrees with a heat index (I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation of what a heat index might be) of 107. The conditions were pretty brutal if you were a kid coming to see the show, and considerably worse if you were working. This was our second day of outdoor festival madness in roasting heat. Just for perspective, none of us had showered in two days either. It was a career-evaluating day for sure.
This is Justin. He volunteered to climb the truss and focus lights for me in the middle of the blazing hot afternoon. Here he is pouring sweat while Murder by Death is playing about twenty five feet below him. When I asked him if he was up for it he claimed to be willing to do anything for rock and roll. Well, have at it my friend.

The only way to stay comfortable was to drink lots of water and wear as few items of clothing as possible. Normally we would have a bus to hide on or a dressing room to cool off in, but the dressing room was a tent which, amazingly, amplified and concentrated the heat. Oh, and the A/C on the bus took a shit right around noon. Jesse, one of our backline techs made himself a dangerously short pair cut-offs and turned a bit of discarded denim into a headband. Someone also gave him a shirt that read "Chicago Gay Games 2006." It was a tie dye.

He pulled off his look for most of the day because, I think, of his innate nonchalance. It was pretty ballsy considering the caliber of stagehand that was floating around most of the day.

I don't mean to pass judgement, but I'm pretty sure that most of these guys don't even own shirts. They did, however, all ride Harleys. Here's an example: This guy clearly decided to give himself a haircut halfway through the day.

There was a great deal of concern over how well this show was selling. Like our show a few days earlier in Penn State, Lawrence is a college town, and most college students are elsewhere. A few bands pulled out when they heard that the festival had sold 1500 tickets in advance. I'm sure some turned right around when they heard that Keane was playing as well.

There are more band members than audience members at this hour. This is the first band on the stage, playing to four people, and that's counting the two security guards facing in the opposite direction.

It all went off without a hitch and, while retaining a bit of the county fair vibe, the festival was pretty great. This is my on-going effort to defeat mother nature.

Everyone dealt pretty well with how inefficiently, at times, things were run mostly because the promoter and organizers hearts were really in it. Around dusk they lit hundreds of candles in paper bags to light the single dirt road in and out of the place. I thought that this was much nicer than big sodium flood-lighting in such a natural environment. I was thinking this just as I was very nearly mowed down by a passing golf cart because there were no lights on the road.

If you are ever in the greater Lawrence area, avoid, at all costs, Taco John's. I took three bites of a burrito that was filled with (I'm serious) fried chicken, nacho cheese and tatter tots. The resulting indigestion caused me to very nearly shit my pants halfway through the show. I won't go into any further detail about that little incident.

I made it though and got to shower last night after two long days. I fell asleep feeling like a new man after watching 15 minutes of 'Master and Commander' which is, maybe, the worst movie that I have ever seen. Worse than those Bollywood things even. That aside, I am in Denver today, at the Fillmore. I am in doors, sitting in front of a fan, dicking around on the information superhighway without a care in the world. I just had a cup of Greek yogurt and honey from the gourmet grocer's up the street and found a copy of The Onion to read. Life is pretty alright.

We'll Let You Know

How sad are we, and how sad have we been?

The antidote:

Pringles has started printing jokes on their potato chips. Happy day.

I'm going to backtrack here a bit, but first let me just say two things.

1. The sky in Denver looked amazing yesterday

2. I made the Fillmore look like an enchanted forest last night.

I had a rocky start to this one. It's a short one though. Just a wee, two week tour. I'm home in less than a week now. It's been nice having my bed and being surrounded by all of my stuff. Arriving late to Penn State last week and checking into my dilapidated hotel room shocked the thought of home right out of me.

It was back to the tarmac, and the friendly skies as well.

But I like my new haircut. I thought, initially, that I looked like a 12 year-old girl, but I changed my mind. The picture is decieving. I'm smiling inside.

Penn State is a bizarre place during the off-season. Like any college town it basically shuts down during the summer. I found one of the few open bars and listened to some guy in cargo shorts and flip flops sing Social Distortion songs and strum an acoustic guitar. It was not unlike, I'd imagine, being in Oz, but with booze.

I sat at a pretty great table though. It spoke of years of drunken nights and people with something to say and the means to carve said sentiments into a big wooden table.

Starting work, especially in a big, empty arena tends to make me feel better. I really like making things. Pretty things.

Death Cab for Death Cab for Cutie

We've got wheels

We are collectively a group of people who builds a show from the ground up nearly every day. We install PA, lights, risers set up drums, tune guitars and make all sorts of magical things go on. We can't, however, work out how to turn the damn TV on.

Tour...(said with a sigh)