The second day of LouFest was almost dangerously-loaded with bands I wanted to see. Not that I wasn’t stoked about seeing the Day 1 bands, but the second half of the festival was wall-to-wall acts I was dying to see. Taking many of the lessons we learned from Day #1, my wife and I headed down to Forest Park with folding chairs and a change of clothes. Change of clothes? Yep, despite the bevy of awesome bands before us there was darkness literally looming on the horizon. With a 50% chance of rain, we knew we were gonna get wet…little did we realize just how wet we were going to get.
Day #2 started (for us) around 2-ish. We skipped the first two bands and started the day with fellow Missourians Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY). I have SSLYBY’s first album, BROOM, but I don’t consider myself to be a huge fan. They do have a very pleasant indie pop-rock sound somewhat akin to something off the early Weezer albums. As we set up our little chairs, we also popped in ear plugs. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I used ear plugs, but after standing close to the (way too loud) Dinosaur Jr. stage the day before, I still had a lingering ringing in the ears. When given the choice between looking/being cool or retaining my hearing, I’ll choose my hearing every time. Still, it felt like a very old man thing to do. My friend Mark randomly stopped by and made me feel better about using them*.
SSLYBY were about as good as they are on their records, which isn’t really a compliment or a criticism, it’s just a fact. I wish I could muster some feeling for them one way or the other, but I can’t. They did play my two favorite songs of theirs, “Sink/Let It Sway” and the uber-fantastic “Pangea.” Up next was a band I’d never heard of, Wild Nothing. The band, who hails from Virginia, has a pleasant, slightly 80’s-ish pop sound. We didn’t move over to their stage, but what I heard wafting across the field was pretty good. They’re definitely a band I plan on checking out on Spotify.
The day’s first disappointment was Cults. I was really looking forward to seeing the guy-girl rockers. I was hoping they’d show up with White Stripes-style two-person set-up, but instead they came with a full band. And while that made them sound fuller (and more like the album) it kinda bummed me out. They played, among other things, their most popular song “Outside” and a pretty cool Leonard Cohen cover, “Everybody Knows.” Lead singer Maeline Follin was cute in her little white dress, and the music was solid–but they just didn’t do it for me. I was hoping they’d show some chutzpah, instead I felt Cults played it pretty safe.
After Cults it was time for Dawes, a band I was really looking forward to seeing. Dawes hand’t even shown up on my radar until a few weeks ago when I was messing around on a message board for Warren Zevon fans where they were mentioned as having Zevon-like qualities. Dawes has a vibe that’s closer to Jackson Browne in my mind than his friend Zevon, but they have some Zevonian tendencies. What I really like about them, though is that how they have that carefree, California sound but also seem really down-to-Earth. When the band took the stage, the storm clouds that had been threatening us all day somehow managed to get even scarier. Living in tornado country, summer thunder storms are taken pretty seriously here, so it was both a relief and a bit unnerving when the band announced they’d play until “they were told to stop.” Call me crazy, but I always think it’s a bad idea to trust money men/bean counter’s with my life. Anyway, it started to lightly rain during Dawes’ set, but we still got to hear a lot of really good tunes. My favorites of the set were “Fire Away,” “When My Time Comes,” and my personal favorite “A Little Bit of Everything.” The set was good but cut short by a downpour of rain.
Running across the field in the rain, my wife and I were able to take shelter under one of the few picnic table umbrellas they festival had mercifully set up. We found ourselves huddled with a handful of young (but grizzled) festival goers. As we watched the rain fall, they enlightened us on the art of sneaking drugs and alcohol into concerts. One particularly devious trick they shared involved using hot water to reseal a vodka-filled Dasani bottle. Checking our iPhones, we saw that the festival had been “postponed indefinitely.” With $70 (a piece) tied-up in the day’s tickets, and nowhere really else to go, we bravely waited for the rain to stop. When it did, we were all thoroughly drenched. The umbrella had become so thoroughly drenched that the water was able to pass right through it. There were kids slip n’ sliding through the mud and chicks going sans shirts. It was actually pretty rad.
Then word got out, via Facebook, that the last two musical acts would indeed play, and there was much rejoicing. We set-up near the Dr. Dog stage, determined to finish the festival. I really loved Dr. Dog’s debut album, but a lack of funds kept me from really getting into their music when I was in college. At the time they came out, the band seemed poised to follow a path to breakout success much like the Kings of Leon. Alas, that breakout never came and I always wondered why. Though I wondered, I never really caught back up with the band’s output, to see what they were up to. Dr. Dog’s sound is a throw-back to classic rock bands with a backwoods sensibility, like The Band and Gram Parsons. I had high hopes for the band’s LouFest appearance, but the deck was stacked against them: we were soaked and Wayne Coyne was on the other stage periodically rushing out and confetti-bombing the crowd while the band’s crew set-up. As I watched Dr. Dog play, I kept seeing people turn and look over at The Lips’ stage. Once the The Flaming Lips techs were testing the band’s laser, there was a small exodus over to where The Flaming Lips would play at 8:00. I’d never seen a Flaming Lips show, but I knew the legends–and I knew we had to abandon Dr. Dog so that we could get as close as possible.
I changed into some dry clothes, took a piss, bought a beer, and then hunkered down in the hippie-fest that is a Flaming Lips crowd. Though it was dark and drizzly, it was impossible to miss the cloud of pot smoke hovering near the stage. There were kids dressed like X-Men and Astronauts, chicks with balloon animal hats, face paint: basically all your typical Flaming Lips freaks. The show started, the clouds parted, and The Flaming Lips bombared the crowd with streamers, confetti, massive ballons, and super-trippy music. Oh, the music was trippy. The band opened with “Race for the Prize” which was so sun-shiny-super that it banished all memory of the terribly cold rain. The band’s stage show is the stuff of legend, and I’m here to tell you: it’s all true. The confetti blizzard, the strange characters (giant rabbits stalking through the crowd), Wayne climbing in the plastic ball and running over the crowd, the lasers…it’s all true.
Do you remember that scene in MAN ON THE MOON when Jim Carrey (as Andy Kaufman) has that big show at Carnegie Hall at the end? The one where he keeps up-ing the sweetness ante, until by the end of the show he has Santa Claus come out and everyone gets on a bus to enjoy milk and cookies? That’s what a Flaming Lips show is like. It’s much, much weirder, but the band projects that child-like joy/everything is possible feeling. The Flaming Lips are one of those bands that somehow never got the memo that irony is “in” and sincerity is “out.” I truly believe that Wayne Coyne thinks that all one needs is peace, love, and drugs. He could just be a really good actor, but I doubt it. In today’s musical clime I find that sincerity to be very refreshing.
The band played the awesome “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and everyone was feeling super-groovy. I expected them to continue playing light, cotton-candy festival fare but things took a darker, more obscure turn. The band played a couple of gloomy songs back-to-back. Well, they were gloomy for The Flaming Lips…which means there was still giant foam hands that shot multi-colored lights at a massive disco ball. Their newer stuff is more creepy electronica than it is trippy psych-pop, which is what I expected them to play. The band ended the dark part of their set with a strange song called “Drug Chart” which I had never even heard of. Things became more upbeat as the band finished up with “What is the Light?” before closing with the awesome “Do You Realize??”
“Do You Realize??” is The Flaming Lips version of “All You Need Is Love” and “Hey Jude.” It’s a simple, but powerful, song that manages to walk the line between very happy and very sad. I did not expect them to play this song (even though it is so popular) because they seemed to be digging a bit deeper than the typical festival setlist of “hits”. It was a tremendously upbeat way to end a 2 day festival mired by by weather. It was awesome seeing The Flaming Lips live and I would recommend to anyone reading this: if you get a chance to see them do not hesitate, do it. You will not regret it.
The second day was quite the adventure. I had a lot of fun at LouFest 2012 and hope the organizers can continue to grow this fledgling festival into something with staying power. If the line-up next year is HALF as killer as this year’s I’ll definitely be buying tickets. If the bands aren’t as good I think I might volunteer and see it for free. Anyone want to pour water or sort through recycling with me?
*My friend Mark is a bit like Gandalf from LORD OF THE RINGS in that he tends to show up only when he is truly needed. And like Gandalf, he can never stay for very long. There is no doubt a trilogy’s worth of material on what the hell he does when he isn’t in the main tale.