Day Two: The Flaming Lips, Beirut, The Walkmen
October 18, 2009
Treasure Island Music Festival
Better Than: Being stranded on any other island.
Sunday's festival goers had to be a little more hardy and wind-resistant to enjoy day two of the Treasure Island Music Festival. But cooler weather also may have made the investment into a few ridiculously priced beers or Soju drinks worthwhile. By the time the day's headliners made their grand entrance onto the island's main stage, the crowd had warmed-up enough -- either from booze or furry costumes -- to welcome the characteristic Flaming Lips antics that capped off the weekend's festivities.
Grand entrance may be an understatement. The Flaming Lips show began with a grainy, seizure-inducing video of a larger-than-life naked woman projected onto a giant, orange archway on stage. With lights turned low, and psychedelic sounds throbbing in the background, the crowd - egged on by the silhouettes of stagehands - did as they were told and cheered. As the naked woman on the video settled into the birthing position, and a blinding light emerged from her giant vagina, no one needed encouragement from the stagehands to make a ruckus. One by one, band members emerged from behind the projection on the archway so that it appeared as though the woman in the video was giving birth to the band into the neon world of the stage (literally, it looked like someone had dropped an orange and yellow paint bomb onto all of the band's equipment).
Frontman Wayne Coyne came last -- but instead of stepping out from behind the archway, Coyne started on stage as an embryo, his body wrapped in deflated plastic. Anyone in the front row who had been to a Flaming Lips show before braced themselves. As the music swelled, the plastic bubble began to inflate. When it had inflated into a giant hamster ball with Coyne inside, he stepped forward and began rolling his way towards the crowd. The music climaxed, Coyne rocked himself back for momentum, and proceeded to launch himself - encased in the plastic bubble -- right onto the crowd.
It was a classic Flaming Lips moment that some audience members -- like the ones who showed to the festival dressed in bunny suits -- had been waiting for all day. Coyne appeared to float in the bubble across a sea of hands. By the time he was plopped back on stage and pulled out of the bubble, other costumed-crowd surfers (a sandwich, more bunnies, etc.) had taken his place. An army of dancers dressed as furry abominable snowmen appeared on each side of the stage. And as Coyne started into what would be by far the most theatrical set of the day (if not the year), a series of explosions sent orange and yellow colored confetti and streamers shooting out over the crowd.
Apparently Coyne likes to keep his audience in perpetual a state of shock: "I was afraid it might be too cold to freak out," he said at the start of the set. He rarely seemed satisfied with the crowd's reaction and shouted out constant reminders that "this is the last thing of the whole thing, so, aren't you supposed to be going crazy?" But besides a few party tricks on stage, Coyne didn't do too much going crazy himself. His pleas for the crowd to cheer more, which seemed almost desperate at times, were often lost behind a wall of manmade fog. The first few rows could see Coyne through the weather on stage, but also risked having their ears blown out. Still, when the antics on stage quieted and the first few lines of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" came over the loudspeakers, nearly everyone who showed at yesterday's festival happily sang along.
The headliners may have had the theatrics to keep the crowd riled until the very last chord was struck, but bands throughout the day played their Sunday show with Friday night enthusiasm. The proximity of the two stages on the island meant that festival goers could easily hop from one stage to the next without missing a beat from any of the bands. Most people walked, ran, or sprinted in some cases, between stages all day long to experience the entire impressive lineup.
One common thread across the spectrum of bands that played Sunday was an emphasis on brass sections. Beirut kicked-off the brass menagerie, as skies above them cleared momentarily, by playing what at times felt like sweet sea chanties. The music went well with the island theme of the weekend. And lead singer, Zachary Condon, did well to manage the weather, even though he said that his ukulele is not fond of the chill of fall as much as he is. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros also blew the crowd away with their zany, high-energy folk songs complete with brass and accordion sections. Other bands definitely worth wading through crowds on Sunday included The Walkmen, Thao with The Get Down Stay Down, Grizzly Bear, and the Spiral Stairs.
Bathroom Lines: Went from none to bad to worse and then back to none again. The bad part happened when the cleaning guys showed up and half the bathrooms were out of service for a good hour. Also, although it was nice to have the bathroom area confiscated to one side of the festival, providing access closer to the stages might have prevented crowd members from hopping the fence into the VIP area just to use the facilities.
Lines in General: The "Best Line" award goes to the line for shuttles to and from the island, which were well-organized enough to move fast, despite their intimidating length. The "Worst Line" award easily goes to the coffee line, which most chilly festival goers needed a good dose of by Sunday evening.
Critic's Notebook 1: Poetry guru, Zach Houston, may have made a killing yesterday by selling his off-the-cuff poems (you choose the subject, he'll pound out a poem on his typewriter for the price of your choosing) to festival-goers. We have to give him credit for busting out some pretty intense lines after we asked him to write us a poem about robots and dinosaurs (last line teaser: "the fall of man's resources are psychic allies of each other's extinction.")
Critic's Notebook 2: The videos projected on the giant backdrop of the main stage were sometimes more hindrance than help for crowd members who preferred to keep their eardrums intact and stay closer to the back. A simple video close-up of the band playing their tunes would have sufficed. Instead, during The Decemberists we got weird mushroom porn and during the Flaming Lips we got an enormous view of straight up Wayne Cohen's nose from that tiny camera attached to his mic.