Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another Show I'll Never Forget

In late November, 1995, I went to Stache's in Columbus, OH to see The Flaming Lips. This was about eighteen months after "She Don't Use Jelly" had made them what was thought to be one-hit-wonder status and about three-and-a-half years before they broke with The Soft Bulletin. However, as this show would demonstrate, The Lips were destined to be better than that one radio hit.

I was inches away from Wayne Coyne when he stepped up to the mic. There appeared to be a net of some sort behind the band on the tin
y stage and some drunken older guys pushing their way toward the drum kit in the back. I had no idea what was in-store for me that chilly night.

Wayne said something about them being the Flaming Lips from Oklahoma City. Then he said, "Bob." The band broke into Guided By Voices' indie hit "Motor Away" as the older drunk in the back revealed himself to be none other than GBV ringleader Bob Pollard! At the same moment that they played the first few chords, a wall of blinking Christmas lights were turned on to create a solid mass of twinkling light. Bob was stumbling around and was inaudible...until he figured out that his mic wasn't turned on.

When this rocking opener was finally over, Wayne made some crack about Bob not remembering the words as Pollard and his drinking mate (a Used Kids' clerk/owner/regular) managed to land stage left - for the remainder of the show.

The Lips played an rocking set of primarily newer material from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic. There were no bear and bunny suits, no fake blood, no strange projections behind the band. It was The Flaming Lips at a time when they just rocked. Sure, their hardcore days were long gone, but they could
write great power pop anthems with loads of experimental sounds at this point in their careers. In addition, their live show wasn't the circus it would turn into by the end of the decade.

Wayne still played a mean guitar at this point and handled the vocal duties. I don't remember him speaking as much as he does now. His voice was so much more of screechy howl th
an it is today. At times, he just rocked out on the guitar like a true hardcore kid of the 80's.

The band was a foursome during this period with guitarist Ronald Jones. Jones, to this day, had the most impressive board of distortion pedals I have ever seen. It was this large piece of plywood with pedals screwed all over it. He was stepping on pedals almost as much as he was strumming or fingering chords. Some of the most bizarre sounds from The Lips' albums had me convinced they used keyboards or samplers. However, Jones was able to recreate all of those sounds with just a few steps on some pedals. It was really magnificent to watch.

Although legend has it that bassist Michael Ivins was chosen more for his punk rock look than his musical skill, it seemed to be the opposite that night. I remember him wearing crummy jeans, t-shirt, and flannel - much like everyone else in the mid-90's. He was a more-than-proficient musician, and his balding head didn't exactly make me think "punk".

In all of my years going to indie rock shows, I have only seen two drummers that ever amazed me to the point of almost ignoring the rest of the band in favor of watching the disintegration of the skins. (Actually, there were three, but one was my friend Chuck Palmer. I wa
s possibly biased in his case.) One was Chavez drummer James Lo, and the other was The Lips' Steven Drozd. Many forget that multi-instrumentalist Drozd was as an amazing drummer as he was. That man beat the hell out of his drums as if his life depended on it. It was the most intense thing that I've ever seen. When I've seen the band since, I'm always let down that Drozd doesn't play the drums much anymore. When The Lips backed Beck several years later, he only played three or four songs behind the kit. This was probably Beck's second biggest mistake ever...the first being Midnight Vultures.

I walked out that night with a ringing in my ear, an orange t-shirt that proclaimed that "The Flaming Lips Believe" (in aliens), and a much better state of mind. No band will ever rock harder or make me smile more than The Flaming Lips did on that cold, November night at Stache's.

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