Anyone who’s ever been to a Flaming Lips concert knows the protocol: There’s the inflatable “space bubble” inside which frontman Wayne Coyne emerges on song one. Bright confetti is shot from machines and life-sized mascots hug or tackle the wire-haired singer. There are general shenanigans in which audience members are encourage to partake, whether it’s a call and response of nonsensical words or to dance on command.
True to my own nature, I did the latter – in front of 30,000+ people at Bonnaroo on Friday.
The Lips at recent gigs have hosted a corral of non-professional dancers at each show to join the band on stage and to jump around and dance like five-year-old cheerleaders given their first pom-poms. Given the opportunity, how could I resist?
The band was to perform two different sets at the festival: one of their songs, and a performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in full, alongside Death Star and White Dwarfs.
We honored recruits were given backstage stickers and sent to a dressing room (in our case, an open-air tent) and introduced to a wardrobe of construction cone-orange “spacesuits,” polyester, with Velcro attachments and heavy for the Tennessee heat – it was to be a look fashioned for DJ Lance from “Yo Gabba Gabba!” (and, obviously, for space travel). I scored a mini-skirt and a headband fashioned from duct tape.
We were instructed told to rock our bodies within a small confine of lines on the stage, stay out of everyone’s way, and merry-make to our little hearts’ content for the full first set – an hour – if we were able.
Ushered backstage, space-people had time to make small talk. Young men and women of all sizes and general demeanor adjusted their felt hats or makeshift halter tops, hiking up ugly socks and taking pictures of each other on their iPhones. There was a couple who was invited to dance after the husband won a YouTube video contest (“I think the key was props,” the wife explained); a pair of girls had arrived at the fest wearing animal outfits – y’know, as one does; one guy was a college friend of a confetti-feeder. Another gal had attracted production’s attention when she revealed an extremely accurate, unsmudged album cover of “Dark Side” painted onto her chest and belly – when Wayne came around to give hellos, she instead lifted up her shirt and offered a touch.
Coyne was astonishingly involved in the entire stage production, from lifting boxes and pushing the smoke machine buttons, to giving cues and adjusting his own sound. I didn’t imagine he’d just be sitting in an air conditioned green room hidden somewhere behind the muck and heat of the fields, but with a team of more than a dozen stage hands and sound engineers what-have-you, he was flitting around backstage seemingly as much as anyone else.
Between the strobes, the lasers, the floods and the usual stage lights, I could really only see maybe 30 rows back, so it’s easy to imagine why a singer wouldn’t necessarily see one’s ultra-awesome “BREATHE” poster.
None of the 20 folks dancing onstage that night walked off the wings dry. Aside from the heavy fibers of the track pants and tab jackets, the lights were a million degrees and when its requested you dance like a jerk without stopping for an hour in front of a festival crowd, it’s not like you go halvsies.
We got to watch "Dark Side" from the edges, in the artificial fog, and we got t-shirts.
One delightful and terrifying element to all this was, considering the number of streamers coming down from the rafters and the blanket of tiny yellow and orange tissue paper squares on the floor, cigarettes were still smoked in abundance.