Colbchella: fun., Grizzly Bear, Santigold, Flaming Lips
Friday, August 10
Better than: All the world wars and Woodstocks combined.
Don’t you ever question America’s might. We do things bigger and crazier than other countries—and then we televise it. And while Stephen Colbert didn’t officially endorse that message, he concurs. On Friday night, he took over the U.S.S. Intrepid for a nautical, turret-blazing salute to US military, industrial, and Indie rock superiority.
In dire response to the proliferation of “half-naked, patchouli-soaked, white guy dreadlock festivals,” Colbert concocted Stephest Colbchella ‘012 Rocktaugustfest as an assertion of his fundamental conservative values and reverence of corporate sponsorship (“Pepsi, the official drink of my throat”). Colbert brought acts like The Flaming Lips, Santigold, Grizzly Bear and fun. to support his ultimate (if satirical) political goal: Self-aggrandizement and narcissistic back patting.
As the event stretched on through the night—the consequence of it being a taping for this week’s run of The Colbert Report—Colbert never batted an uncomfortable eye or let his showmanship wane. Instead he ran around beaming in full Mutiny on the Bounty garb, shooting segments from the middle of the packed crowd, climbing scaffolding to join Grandmaster Flash in the DJ booth, playing a giant game of Battleship, and waving around a curved admiral’s blade as often as possible.
The pace of shooting and some sound issues forced both Grizzly Bear and Santigold to repeat several songs and slowing the pace of the night, so the show didn’t really feel like a traditional festival. But it did have a rare combination of surreal ambiance, vitriolic satire, and (when the music was at full sail) furious boat-rocking.
After fun. enthusiastically breezed through three songs, Grizzly Bear made a gutsy play by introducing the world to two new songs off of their upcoming album Sheilds Performed for the first time live, “Yet Again” was solemn yet flag-waving, full of chilling harmonies, wavering noise, and subtly growing drama. “Sleeping Ute,” meanwhile, was a dizzying epic. Santigold seemed the most dedicated to entertainment, thanks to her French-maid-meets-nun-outfitted dancers high-stepping and twirling umbrellas.
And even if they were playing second fiddle to Colbert, The Flaming Lips couldn’t help steal a bit of the show. After a gut-punching run through the booming stomp “Drug Chart,” they reeled off an extra-heavy version of “Do You Realize.” Without most of the psych trappings and monologue-filled spaces of their traditional live show, the band felt supremely tight and nimble. For one last treat, the band played an amped-up version of the Colbert theme song as Colbert ventured over the crowd while in one of leader Wayne Coyne’s giant plastic hamster balls. Colbert and Coyne rolled over the audience in unison, two spheres of energy and charisma passing each other in the night.
The most notable absence of the night? There wasn’t any talk that could have been considered remotely political. With partisan warfare looming on the horizon, Colbert chose to focus on fun. (No pun intended.) America can certainly battle with the best of them, but as Colbert astutely (if silently) acknowledged, the country’s ability to party through it all makes it great, too.
Critical bias: I own several collections of sea shanties.
Overheard: “The cockfighting is BYO cock.” Colbert pronouncing the Hudson River as international waters,and telling the audience to expect a night full of “gambling, orgies, and cockfighting.”
Random notebook dump: I haven’t readily chanted “America” so enthusiastically and so often since, well, maybe ever.
We Are Young
The Flaming Lips
Ashes In The Air
Do You Realize?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 13, 2012