The Flaming Lips Live at the 80/35 Music Festival

When in doubt...The Flaming Lips

80/35 Music Festival

Des Moines, Iowa, July 4, 2008

According to the drunk twenty-something standing in front of me, I’m a “fun hater.” I should know better than to go to a music festival… I’m too old and crabby to efficiently deal with the younger bums and their plastic cups sloshing lukewarm Miller Lite all over the place… But I was tempted in the guise of a fairly decent line-up and a varying degree of Iowa pride to attend the inaugural performance of the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines, Iowa over the holiday weekend.

If a promoter in Iowa has the good sense to book Drive By Truckers, The Roots, Frank Black, The Flaming Lips, and a few other notable acts for their festival, then as an Iowan I’m obliged to lend a modicum of support behind it and travel the two hours to the Hawkeye state capitol.

We secured babysitters to check out the Friday night show where the Flaming Lips, a band that seems to attract themselves to festivals like mayflies are attracted to Fresnel lights, would be celebrating Independence Day with us. This would mark my wife’s second Flaming Lips show (her first was at another festival in Ohio a few years ago) and probably my tenth. I’ve seen them in various configurations and have enjoyed nearly every one of them immensely.

In fact, I would reserve two of my top ten best concerts ever for the Lips: the first from a small club during their power trio phase of the late 80s and the second at a larger club, The Soft Bulletin tour, where they were incorporating their headphone experiments and just beginning to work video segments into their setlist. As different as the two shows were, there was a sense of adventure to them and even moments of sheer amateurism. You could see the “play” icon on the projection screen of some of those early forays into playing against a video backdrop and the stage was overrun with gaudy effects seemingly purchased at the local Spencer Gifts store.

It was wonderful because it was real and the spontaneity came in the danger that some of this jimmy-rigged equipment wouldn’t even work. Pressing the potential fiasco forward was Wayne Coyne, a veritable Ed Wood of rock showmanship, just pleased as punch that he was up there performing at all and obviously having a blast doing it.

He hasn’t changed at all. But I have.

The Flaming Lips Live at the 80/35 Music Festival

The Flaming Lips are one of the greatest bands you’ll ever see live. The first show will make you think this and the second one will confirm it. By the time you get to your fifth or sixth show, the shtick starts to wear thin. It has nothing to do with the band’s intent or integrity; it has to do with the repetition of the event and how little it deviates from show to show, even when you spread years in between them. You’ll begin to get annoyed at having to watch the same Jon Stewart introduction to “She Don’t Use Jelly” repeatedly. In fact, you’ll get positively sick of the song itself, regardless of who’s introducing it, because it seems to end up on every setlist, night after night.

It makes no sense that a band with over twenty years of some of the most consistently great records focuses nearly every show on the same material with an occasional surprise tune thrown in. Check the setlist and I’m sure you’ll find “Jelly,” “Yoshimi,” “Race For The Prize,” and “Do You Realize” on nearly every stop.

The Flaming Lips have become such a reliable band of merry pranksters that they’re synonymous with festival events. On the other side, there is so little improvisation in their setlists now that the only danger is if a piece of confetti gets caught in your eye.

Everything is by the book now and Des Moines was treated with yet another ninety minutes of obligatory crowd pleasers, endless song reprises and incessant banter at every stopping point.

The majority of the audience was oblivious to all of this and seemed to appreciate the band’s continual on stage shenanigans. While the video screens played rerun visuals, we began to pay more attention to the crowd around us. Next to us was a woman missing a leg in a wheelchair. I didn’t wonder how she lost the limb; instead, I wondered how she could see anything from her low vantage point. There was another woman who seemed more thrilled that she had found a hula-hoop after going on a beer run than actually being at a Lips show. The man next to her drummed incessantly with a pair of cheap glow sticks that somebody threw at him. But the most amazing crowd member had to be the chubby boy in front of us, curiously dressed in some too short cut-offs, an upside-down Corona visor (complete with a lock of hair standing up from a woman’s hair tie) and a t-shirt that was curiously hitched up between his armpits, exposing his rotund belly in the front and visible boxer shorts from the rear. Even more amazingly: another man came up to him and bought his shirt literally right off of his back. The shirt read “When In Doubt, Take Your Pants Off” on the back of it and this piece of screenprinted wisdom cost the buyer twenty large.

The crowd around us became fixated with the many big balloons that bounced around the grounds. They continually tried to get those in front of them to bounce the balloons back and when one made its way back, they began to invade our personal space while trying to reach for the elusive party toy.

“I’m going to pop that fucking balloon if it gets near me! I swear to God I’ll pop that thing!” I yelled to the space invaders as fair warning.

I was there to watch a fucking concert…not play with balloons.

“Don’t be a fun hater!” a guy in front of me shot back.

“I’m all for fun,” I replied. “But that balloon is yellow and I hate yellow. Yellow is the color of La-La (the Teletubby)…And La-La plays for the other team…And do you know who ‘the other team’ is?”

“Homosexuals?” The young man replied back, drawing out the words sensing I was trying to be funny with him.

“No.” I corrected. “The other team is Council Bluffs.”

My dialogue of nonsense left the intoxicated gentleman confused; the drunks in front of us didn’t bother us the rest of the night.

I don’t consider myself a fun hater. I consider myself a fan of The Flaming Lips who has grown tired of the repetition and lack of chaos that once was a valuable part of their live shows. The visuals have now officially become the primary draw here with the music itself taking a backseat.

What saves them from my complete contempt is Coyne himself, who projects every distraction with honest ambivalence and seems genuinely appreciative of the audience he works hard at entertaining. He uses the microphone to provide countless “thank yous” and meandering song introductions. As annoying as this can be, it gives a glimpse into the heart of a true Everyman, someone who worshipped at the alter of rock and roll so much that he found himself leading the congregation.

Des Moines threw their faith right back, obediently singing the words when Wayne pleaded with them to, screaming the word “fuck” during the moments he instructed, and providing the band with raucous applause after each song. As a veteran of double digit Lips shows, it was par for the course at best, but the time of their life for a few souls who hadn’t experienced the Oklahoma freaks before. Indeed, I personally observed one man on the way out confiding to his female companion that the show was “one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.”

I remember feeling that way once too, but I’ve developed a tolerance to their choreographed hi-jinks. Like any good mind-altering experience, the Flaming Lips are best when they’re enjoyed in moderation.


Race For The Prize

Free Radicals

The Song Remains The Same

Fight Test

Mountain Side

Vein Of Stars

Yoshimi (Part One)

Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song


The W.A.N.D.

She Don’t Use Jelly


Do You Realize??

More: The Street Fair In Des Moines.

14 thoughts on “The Flaming Lips Live at the 80/35 Music Festival”

  1. Hmm. I tend to enjoy your writing, Todd, but you do come off a bit curmudgeonly here. As you note, many fans there were seeing their first Flaming Lips show. It was a special moment for them (as it had been for you previously). All they’re doing is having fun.

    Being familiar with the Lips’ performances, you should have known that they were participatory, and if you were annoyed after the fifth or sixth, as you say, by the 10th you should have known your tolerance level would have been quite low. At that point, stand in the way back and let the kids have fun.

    I saw the Decemberists for the 5th time last summer, and they have a lot of audience-pleasing schticks that get repetitive and annoying. And though that 5th time was nothing special for me, I kept out of the way while everyone else did their thing, enjoying it for the first time.

    In short: fun hater.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I love this band but hopefully they’re nearing the end of this “sensory overload circus” phase. It’s just not doing it for me anymore … but maybe I’m just a fun hater too.

  3. The Flaming Lips are like heroin: I remember all of those good times and keep coming back even though I’m not going to get the same buzz. And I keep hoping for that transcendental show, the one where they return to their “roots” and mic up a motorcyle, smash a piano at the end of “Love Yer Brain” and talk about Wayne’s drug abusing brother instead of the war in Iraq.

    These were comp tix, btw, it cost me nothing but gas money to get there. And if you tell me there might be a package of heroin waiting for me in Des Moines that’s free for the taking, I’m going to drive there and look for that horse. I keep chasing the dragon and all I get is Wayne in that fucking crowd walking bubble.

  4. Tom, I have to respectfully disagree with your sentiments; Todd has remained a Lips fan for probably the obvious reason, the music. He continues to see them. He’s remained loyal. Why should his loyalty be rewarded with the same show, same script, same “surprises”? No,a band isn’t beholden to reinvent the wheel every time they release a new album, launch a new tour. But they ought to mix it up a bit to give the loyalists a reason to keep on flocking to the show. Hell, even the Stones and McCartney mix it up a bit from tour to tour.

  5. Come on now. Nobody’s suggesting that Todd doesn’t have the right to be disappointed, bored, and frustrated. But there’s no need to piss in everybody else’s Wheaties.

    Split if you’re not having a good time. Don’t harsh some poor kid’s buzz because you’re OLD and JADED, ha ha. Just go home and write about why it sucked for Glorious Noise!

    By the way, I’ve only seen the Lips twice. The first time (with Beck) blew my mind and actually convinced Jolie that Wayne Coyne should babysit our yet-to-be-conceived child. The joy he exudes is positively infectious.

    When the second Lips show I saw (at Lollapalooza, recently) was pretty much the same as the first, I was a little bummed. But it was still fun. I can definitely imagine that by the fifth or sixth show, I’d be pretty tired of it…

    But still, everybody should get to experience it at least once. And they shouldn’t have to listen to grumpy old men (like us!) whining about how we’ve been there, seen that…

  6. “Come on now. Nobody’s suggesting that Todd doesn’t have the right to be disappointed, bored, and frustrated. But there’s no need to piss in everybody else’s Wheaties.

    Split if you’re not having a good time. Don’t harsh some poor kid’s buzz because you’re OLD and JADED, ha ha. Just go home and write about why it sucked for Glorious Noise!”

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. If he’s disappointed in the concert, that’s fine. But taking it out on the crowd isn’t the way to go.

    Again, I’ve seen the Decemberists (another great, infectiously positive live band) enough times that I’m sick of them. But I didn’t take that frustration out on the people around me screaming “Here all the bombs fade away” because I had been through it and they hadn’t. I stood to the side, let them enjoy the show, and vowed I wouldn’t buy another ticket until they flipped the script on their live show.

  7. Hold the phone a moment, fuckers. Those gentlemen who deemed me a “fun hater” were not the innocent first timers that is being suggested. They did the “Woot Woot” part during the appropriate time in “Yoshimi,” high-fived when they got to yell “Fuck” during “Fanatical,” and generally knew the routine of a Lips show. If they were virgins, I’d let ’em have their fun. But when they’re drunk and getting in me and my old lady’s space for no other reason other than THEY’RE DRUNK, THEY CAN’T KEEP THEIR BALANCE, AND THEY WANT A FUCKING BALLOON then I’m going to get bitchy. We’re minding our own business, holding each other, singing along (including the aforementioned “Woot Woot”) and trying to have our own fun too, so where’s the respect for our own enjoyment. Have fun! Get up on that dude’s shoulders! Block my view! But if he’s too drunk to get your ass up there, then don’t stumble into me and my girl, hoss. I bite my lip like any good Midwesterner, but then there becomes a point, ya dig? And for the record, I saved my critique for the GloNo press. It ain’t like I’m getting all elitist during the show like an indie snop. Like I said, I’m with my girl, hand in her pocket, singing along, hopin’ to get laid after the show just like any other dude in attendance. I’m sure the balloon dude went home solo. Maybe if he’d played in moderation and focused on the chicks instead of the fucking balloons…

  8. Sounds like you shouldn’t picked a different headliner to check out. 10 times is a lot for anybody…I won’t see most bands more than 3 – 5 times apiece.

    Besides, I sometimes think festivals are best enjoyed during the early parts of the day, when it’s hot, nobody’s drunk yet, and you get to marvel at how weird a rock show is in the daylight.

  9. why didnt you just leave then? iv’e left numerous shows that either bored and/or annoyed me. you clearly weren’t having a good time.

  10. Because GloNo pays me by the hour. The longer I stayed, the longer I was “on the clock,” so to speak. They haven’t paid their writers “by the word” since Loftus left.

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