2012, Music

The Flaming Lips live at Yonge & Dundas Square, June 16, 2012

A brief word before this review: I am a music fan first and foremost and everything else is secondary. So I don’t put much stock in performance (beyond whether its musically good or not) and so don’t get the wrong idea.

We arrived at Yonge and Dundas around 8:20 or so last night to see the end of Portugal, the Man’s set. They were a little better live than I remembered them but that’s because they were louder because they were live (and playing in a public square, necessitating more volume).

Things didn’t get off to a good start. The Lips looked ready to take the stage around 9, but it was close to 9:30 before the show proper began. I say ‘show proper’ because some people suggested that the numerous technical problems they appeared to be having were intentional. Certainly two things – at one point a video appeared in the background and at another time a sample with coordinated lights went on for a good 5 minutes – seemed pre-planned; but when you think about it, they have to try out the video screen and the lights just like they have to try out their instruments and mics.

Anyway, when it did actually start, it got off to a roaring start, with everyone but Coyne coming out through a door in the video display and Coyne appearing on stage in a giant bubble, which he subsequently used to crowd surf to the tune of a cover of “Sweet Leaf”.

A funereal version of “Knives Out” was used as tribute to the dead and injured at the canceled Radiohead show – as was a funereal version of “Waiting for Superman” from The Soft Bulletin – and I felt like that unfortunate accident put a bit of a pallor over the whole show.

With the exception of “She Don’t Use Jelly” – which itself featured a piano-ballad verse – almost every song – at least those I was familiar with, having listened to nothing the band has put out in the last 2-3 years – was slower than on the albums, and almost every track was drawn out in extended, seemingly mournful (or perhaps just sedate) codas. Having never seen the Lips live before – except through the wonders of TV – I don’t know if this is something they are doing this tour (or do more often) but it felt like they were a little less than they could have been as a result.

The show itself was often great to look at – though very complicated to execute, I’m sure. But that’s not why I went. And so I must say I’m glad it was free.

Because, though it was one of the better shows I’ve seen in my life, that is damning with faint praise as I have seen relatively few major professional bands for a 30 year old. And I think that if I had spent $50 I might have been disappointed: not just because of the near 30-minute delay – which I worry may have ended the set a little early, since they absolutely had to stop at 11 due to noise by-laws – but because the performances were a little less tight, and a little less explosive (for lack of a better word) than I would have liked. I don’t really mean that as a criticism really, I just mean I’m glad I didn’t have my expectations sky high.

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