Live: Weezer And The Flaming Lips Share And Share Alike At The PNC Arts Center
Better than: Not seeing Bush at the Bowery Ballroom.
It's extremely easy to forget the advantages of an large-scale concert if you've gone, say, a decade eschewing such shows. Massive venues with lawn seating (and ticket checkpoints at every intersection, of which there are about 20) lose their luster once the intimacy (and relative lack of expense) of club shows becomes an expectation rather than merely an appeal, and the performative transition involved in scaling up often changes the nature of a band's performance.
Last night's Weezer/Flaming Lips double bill at the PNC Bank Arts Center was a rejoinder to that sometimes-prevailing attitude. Here was a show that could only have worked in this sort of venue, playing to the strengths of the setup and even benefiting from its drawbacks.
For example, only in a venue so diffuse could Rivers Cuomo not only bring the Flaming Lips ("We used to go see them play; now we're up here," he reflected at one point) to play for a largely Weezer-hungry crowd, but share headlining duties and alternate songs without an audience revolt. This is not to say that Flaming Lips fans were not in attendance; rather, they were simply outnumbered, particularly in the seated part of the venue. No amount of spectacle (of which there was plenty) was going to make Wayne Coyne's attempt to have the crowd sing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" successful, because not enough of the fans within his earshot knew the words. But the Twitter-whining and bathroom-breaking of folks who wanted a Weezer show did not have the marked visual effect on the crowd that it would have had elsewhere. (The lawn crowd, it should be noted, was more openminded, or perhaps merely more forgiving.)
From a certain angle, the bill made perfect sense. Weezer have been fans of the Flaming Lips for at least fifteen years, having hired Dave Fridmann to help mix Pinkerton on the basis of their love for his production on early Lips records. And though the pothead jam-pop of the Flaming Lips doesn't quite have its full slow-burn film-score buildup when it's intercut with trios of Weezer's one-and-done pop songs, the alternation also prevented Coyne and co. from getting too spacey and detaching from the crowd entirely. And 1996 Rivers Cuomo would have been just as thrilled as 2011 Rivers Cuomo was to surf the crowd in one of Coyne's space bubbles while the two bands united to cover "Sweet Leaf." Somewhere in the crowd, the kid who'll grow up to be the millennials' Chuck Klosterman was having a life-changing experience.
The show did have its fair share of awkward transitions, to be sureparticularly each time the Flaming Lips retook the stage. Coyne did his best to smooth things out, thanking Weezer "for being so brave" t one point, and later remarking, "This is a fucking weird night. Isn't this a weird night? Aren't you glad?" But it was hard not to feel for the guy. Late in the set Weezer played four songs instead of three, and during the last of the four, "(If You Are Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," Rivers went out into the crowd, as far back as he sound booth, almost at the lawn, then when the song concluded, he announced, "I'm gonna stay out here with you." To the crowd this was a signal that Weezer was done for the night, and Coyne had to get on the mic to explicitly promise, "Weezer will be back. Don't worry," or else the chants of "Weezer! Weezer!" would have drowned out "Do You Realize??" (which should have beenand mercifully still kind of wasthe Flaming Lips' climactic moment).
For the most part, though, the bands were on point and, aside from the surprises that were part and parcel of the dueling sets, met and exceeded expectations. The Flaming Lips confetti-cannoned the crowd (and, as Cuomo would riff, the stage: "I can't see my setlist!") over and over again, and brought the jams and the pop (and the costumes, and the extreme close-up camera attached to Coyne's mic). Weezer played "Suzanne," and apparently enough time has passed that they can return to the original lyric "Even Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose." (Au revoir, Izzy and Slash!) Second guitarist Brian Bell wore a suit, natch (insight into my warped perspective: I thought to myself, "He wants to be the Peter Hughes of Weezer."). Drummer Pat Wilson played third guitar all night, which puzzled me until I realized the band had hired Josh Freese to drum for the show. Good change! (No offense to Pat Wilson.) Ever the love of harmonies, Rivers used a loop pedal to sing both the "Rain down on me" and "That's it, sir, you're leaving" bits of "Paranoid Android" himself. And neither band seemed all that concerned about the $1000-per-minute fine they started paying when their set pushed past 11 p.m.
Critical bias: I have never paid for seats at a venue with a lawn because my dad taught me, at a radio festival in 1997, to ask people leaving early for their hard tickets.
Overheard: "I'm gonna buy a shirt for everyone on my Facebook page." Some white-haired dude, mockingly, before he stole the paper flyer poster for the upcoming Pixies/Surfer Blood show
Random notebook dump: A note on the Flaming Lips' production design: the confetti cannons and space balloons are always crowd-pleasers, but the Wizard of Oz imagery that's accompanies the band's forays into Dark Side of the Moon covers is too cartoonish even for them. Sure, the 14 women dancing onstage in costumes that looked like they had been marked "Slutty Dorothy" at Party City last Halloween appeared to be having a blast (even though six of them were downwind of the smoke machines). But it was not a little uncomfortable when the Jumbotron cameras lingered on them.
Setlist (with thanks to Psych Explorations of the Future Heart): Intro/"The Fear"/"In Excelsior Vaginalistic" (Flaming Lips) "Sweet Leaf" (Flaming Lips and Weezer) "Worm Mountain" (Flaming Lips) "Silver Trembing Hands" (Flaming Lips) "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" (Flaming Lips) "Hash Pipe" (Weezer) "El Scorcho" (Weezer) "Perfect Situation" (Weezer) "Is David Bowie Dying??" (Flaming Lips) "See the Leaves"/"Laser Hands" (Flaming Lips) "My Name Is Jonas" (Weezer) "Suzanne" (Weezer) "The Good Life" (Weezer) "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" (Flaming Lips) "The Ego's Last Stand"/"Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung" (Flaming Lips) "Island in the Sun" (Weezer) "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly" (Weezer) "Paranoid Android" (Weezer) "What Is The Light"/"The Observer" (Flaming Lips) "Pork and Beans" (Weezer) "Tired of Sex" (Weezer) "Say It Ain't So" (Weezer) "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" (Weezer) "Do You Realize???" (Flaming Lips) "Buddy Holly" (Weezer) "Only in Dreams" (Weezer) "She Don't Use Jelly" (Flaming Lips and Weezer) "Undone (The Sweater Song)" (Flaming Lips and Weezer)
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