One final check of my pockets would show what was truly important for such an occasion. As I stood, one foot out the door, I patted my pockets to make sure I had the essentials. The phone was in its usual pocket, along with thin plastic wallet and ticket. My best Zippo, in case someone needed to borrow a light, and a Sharpie were residing in my left front pocket. My
best only Santa Hat was nestled tightly on my overly large head. A quick stop by the Morgantown Sheetz finished off our list of necessary accouterments for the concert.
After all, we had to have our Faygo.
The Amphitheater was within a few miles of everything else in Pittsburgh. We could see the stage from the long, traffic-filled bridges over the rivers and hear the sound of excited tailgaters from the exhaust-filled parking garage. The walk to the venue was relatively short compared to the 80 miles we had driven that day, but it revealed something that I had always expected.
It truly takes a certain kind of person to want to the see the Flaming Lips in concert. We saw old, black, toothless men with tie-dye hats, shirtless men and women that were smoking cigarettes (I think) and playing hackysack, and even the palest woman I have ever seen wearing a large ceremonial Native American headdress. I remember remarking that the closer we got to the show, the more normal I looked. Honestly, a bright t-shirt and a sweat-stained Santa hat are somewhat commonplace on the road to the Flaming Lips.
Once I fought me way through the port-o-potty line and wrestled my ticket from my homemade wallet, we lined up outside the gate to enter the open-air amphitheater. I was asked if I could be patted down, and I replied “Well, you’re going to do with whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…” The guy just looked blankly at me and started patting my pockets. Apparently, the lighter checked out perfectly, but the Sharpie was a threat to every person in the concert venue. The man at the gate threw my best Sharpie into the nearby trashcan as if I were planning on using it for some heinous acts that evening and he was the hero to keep the entire crowd safe. Just imagine the horror that would occur if I were to write a phone number on my hand or have Wayne sign an autograph after the show.
Appalling, I know.
Either way, I made my way through the gate, freshly Sharpie-less, past the burly men selling t-shirts and the cute girls selling too little beer for too much cash. Seven dollars for a pint of any beer just didn’t sit well with any of us. Approaching the crowd, we saw tiny fjords of open space that jutted out towards the stage and we settled nicely into one. The people in front of us (Tiny Seth Green and his skinny wife) were extremely nice and showed us some pictures from previous shows they had attended. The guys beside us offered us pot every 15 minutes or so. And then, there was the Tiny Hairy Man.
I don’t know what the Tiny Hairy Man’s real name is. All I know about him is what he looks like and what he wants.
As I stood facing the stage to catch a glimpse of the band during their sound check, I felt a tiny tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a very tiny, pale man with a tangled mane of black, crispy hair encircling his head and face. Before I could ask what he wanted, he cupped his hand over my ear and whispered, very politely and eloquently: “Would you like to eat some really good LSD?”
I politely declined, stating that “I wanted to be of clear mind and body the first time I saw the Lips,” which is true, but I really just didn’t want any acid. He claimed that he saw my Santa hat and thought he would offer me a piece of blotter paper. I wished him well and turned to point him out to Jimmy and Sam. However, when I turned around to thumb the guy, he had vanished.
As quickly as the Tiny Hairy Man arrived, he had disembarked on another journey to offer someone else the LSD I had refused.
Soon after, the concert itself had started. The opening band, Fang Island, was one of the better ones that I have seen. But, they were overshadowed by the impending appearance of the Flaming Lips. The lights soon kicked on, the disco balls began spinning, and the large semi-circular screen commenced spitting out some of the strangest images I had seen. Perhaps the images themselves were harmless, but they had been edited with split-second jump cuts and intense panning, giving a feel of watching a schizophrenic’s mind played out on a TV screen.
Tremendous sounds of computers and digital static washed over the crowd as the images on the screen turned to a video of a brightly coloured petite lady dancing fully naked to her own rhythm. She then sat on the floor, spread her legs as if to place them into a gynecologist’s stirrups, and her vagina began glowing intensely and spewing ripples of energy and psychedelic colour. The band then entered the stage via a door in the gigantic rainbow vagina. Why?
Because they are the Flaming Lips. That’s why.
The next two hours flew by in a strange, vibrant, pulsating orgy of light and static-laced lyrics. Wayne ran around on our hands in his large Space Bubble and donned the Tremendous Hands with hundreds of green lasers recently installed in the palms. The men backstage powered cannon-full after cannon-full of bright orange confetti into the air. We sang at the top of our lungs all of our favourite songs. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song. She Don’t Use Jelly.
Looking back, it is rather difficult to recall precise moments or events of the show. I can’t even recall some of the songs they played. But I do remember the important stuff. I remember the warm, engulfing feeling of love and harmony that flowed over the crowd as we danced and jumped and played with balloons. I recall the chill I felt as I looked into the night sky to see torrents of confetti spray past the moon and gently flutter down over the audience like a blizzard of Halloween-coloured snow.
I remember feeling like I was important and that you were important and that everything just made sense.
I remember thinking that, even though I couldn’t quite understand what was going on at the time, it was still one of the most important events of my life. I felt important and loved, and I just wanted to hold someone near and tell them they were just as important as anyone else in this expanding universe.
I remember feeling like me life had changed.
Ever since that show, I have felt like a bit of a different person, but the difference is rather hard to explain. I suppose that’s why I put off writing this piece for so long. I couldn’t quite understand what had changed, so I felt like I couldn’t tell you, the reader(s), what I needed to tell.
As for the music, well… it’s the Flaming Lips. Either you love what they do, or you just shrug and keep walking. I’ve been a fan of the Lips since right after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and I’ve been waiting for 6 years to experience what I lived in that blocked-off parking lot that night.
I think Tiny Seth Green summed it up best when he told us his only Flaming Lips story. He said that last year, he and his wife had paid $60 apiece (almost twice the price of our tickets) to see the show in Philadelphia. The rains came, and after 5 songs, the concert was canceled. He had to wade through water almost up to his waist to exit the amphitheater.
Keeping all that in mind, he said that it was still worth the $60. Then he looked me in the eye and said something that the Flaming Lips would spend two hours proving.
He said, “It’s like Christmas and Halloween and your birthday, all wrapped into one. Except it’s a concert… and it’s f*cking amazing.”
I’ll leave with a few more photographs from the concert, courtesy of my good friend Samantha Jones (her Flickr is available here. Check it out for more pictures of the show and others that she has taken over the years). Enjoy what you see, and be sure to get tickets next time the Flaming Lips are in town.