Mad Scientist Disco Jesus Martian: A Concert Experience (TQP #0023)
Posted By Jeff Holland
Generally speaking, I do not have a good time at live music events. The not-terribly-shocking reason is one word long: People.
Just as they ruin cultural revolutions, violent insurrections, or the promise they specifically gave to not give you their cold, people, in their large packs of peopledom, mess with my ability to enjoy any music concert I’ve ever been to.
And it’s not like I’ve ever been surprised by the crowds. Looking back over years of concerts, whether it was hippies at Phish, middle-aged folks at Billy Joel, nu-swing fans at Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, college students at They Might Be Giants, hipsters at Peter Bjorn and John, or Mac owners at Feist, they all pissed me off. Just by being there like I expected them to. Bastards!
This past Saturday at Penn’s Landing was Captain Morgan’s Jam on the River. Right there in the title are at least two potential irritations – maybe even three, depending on how you feel about rivers.
My love of Josh Ritter required me to show up early. My dear friend Marie, on the other hand, had barely ever heard of the guy, and was mostly accompanying me so I didn’t have to be That Lone Guy in the audience. This it turns out, was a huge mistake on her part, as she was informed by the ticket-taker – as her ticket was being ripped – that there would be no leaving the concert grounds.
I was happy enough, because frankly I had no other plans for the day. Marie gave me a look that…well, it’s rare to see panic and annoyance so completely blend in one’s eyes, so that was a new experience for me, at least.
Ritter played a bad-ass hour of good solid folk-twinged rock. Unfortunately, when it was over, we had five hours to kill until The Flaming Lips took the stage. Five hours, trapped in a parking lot with nothing but $7 beers, and…them.
Hippies are tough to deal with. And it has nothing to do with the smell of weed, or the live-and-let-live ideology. Those things are actually kind of pleasant.
It’s the outfits, I think. There’s a kind of fetishism to the costuming of the proud hippie. I attended Kutztown University, and four Phish concerts. I can reasonably be considered an Expert in Such Matters. The low-slung skirts. The baggy cords. The sure-it’s-hemp necklaces. The tie-dyed shirts. Dreadlocks on white people. Dreadlocks on white people, damn it.
(Once, I tie-died a shirt, and it was a nice, fun, cheap activity on a Saturday afternoon. I was thirteen years old.)
I wondered, how is this style still perpetuating itself, decade in, decade out? I mean, Jerry Garcia is dead. Hell, Phish broke up a few years back. Sure we’re at a festival, but are The Flaming Lips a big hippy draw?
Once we set foot in the main tent, I got my answer. Everything a hippy needs is on sale in there. Beads, necklaces, dreamcatchers, bongos, and of course, tie-dyed shirts. For the reasonable price of about $30 a pop.
So make no mistake. Full-on hippy styling is as costly and time-consuming a fetish as leather gear. And about as comfortable to be surrounded by if you’re not a scenester yourself. Yeah, you might not have a problem with it. You might even find it sort of amusing. But you’re not In The Culture, and so there’s always going to be that division.
(Especially when you watch one fruitlessly try to sell his brethren a didgeridoo. Actually felt a bit bad for that kid by the end of the night.)
After sitting through two patently awful acts (and if you ever want to see the definition of pointless, I urge you to watch a DJ at an outdoor festival in the middle of the afternoon), The Flaming Lips went on.
And suddenly it didn’t matter that we were surrounded by hippies (or their weird off-shoot brothers, the frat-hippy). A Flaming Lips concert takes your mind away from anything other than what’s happening on stage.
The Flaming Lips might be hippy music, but I don’t think that’s quite right. It’s closer to the result of an alien who learned of our culture second-hand and thought jam-based music was the best way to communicate. Take “The W.A.N.D.,” for instance. Check the lyrics. It reads and sounds like a protest song performed by a spaceman.
I like that when you describe what you saw at a Lips concert, it makes you sound like you’re a bit goofy. “He came out in this big bubble and rolled over the audience! And then there were confetti cannons and orange balls, and a bunch of Iron Men were dancing on stage, and behind them things were glowing and flashing, and sometimes it showed Wayne Coyne in a fish-eye lens, and other times there were Japanese commercials or something, and oh right! Naked dancing girls!*” All hosted by Wayne Coyne in his white suit, looking like mad scientist disco Jesus Martian.
So it didn’t matter if you were surrounded by hippies so young they’ve only heard of The Grateful Dead from their square-peg parents. Or the bro-hippy behind you, excitedly barking every lyric into your ear. You’re all here to see the white-suited spaceman and his strange, uninformed notion of what you hoo-mans call a “love-in.” It’s not a transcendent experience. It’s just delightfully, spectacularly weird.
I wish I could describe every live event that way. I also wish I could refer to more things as “mad scientist disco Jesus Martian.”
So thanks, Wayne Coyne.
(*If the phrase “naked dancing girls” didn’t tip you off, this link is what we in the biz refer to as “Not Safe For Work,” – “NSFW,” as the kids are saying. It’s phone-cam footage from that very concert, and about 20 seconds in, the sound cuts out. In the nonjudgmental safety of your own homes, I urge you to watch it anyway. Watching the girls dance silently while Coyne makes Jesus poses makes it all the more interesting, somehow.)