Los Angeles contains a wealth of musical possibilities. One could find experiences of significant diversity and artistic merit within mere miles apart. Not to mention just a few hours away. It can be an expensive endeavor, but for the determined music nerd, it’s well worth the time and money.Day 1: Sunday July 23rd, The Flaming Lips / Thievery Corporation At the Hollywood Bowl
On a warm, irregularly humid day for Southern California a sold-out crowd packed the massive Hollywood Bowl early, took full advantage of the venue’s lax policy of allowing all food and beverages, setting up picnic spreads and mingling casually. At just about the right time the sun began setting, dropping the temperature a few degrees making for a more comfortable environment.
Thievery Corporation took the stage finding a crowd joyously receptive to their downtempo/world music amalgamations. From nearly the start until the very end the capacity crowd danced as Rob Garza and Eric Hilton led their band (which surprisingly included performers such as Alana Davis, Sleepy Wonder and Ashish Vyas of Gogogo Airtheart on bass) through a slick set of sitar-filled, worldbeat electronica that increased in intensity as it went on. Early numbers such as “The Outernationalist” and “The Richest Man In Babylon” got everyone moving, but it was the penultimate chant of “here comes the 2 to the 3 / and 1” from “Warning Shots” that brought bombastic energy. For their last number the band was joined by Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips for the The Cosmic Game’s sedate opener “Marching the Hate Machines Into the Sun,” an appropriate transition into the Lips’ less explosive music.
After just a short break The Flaming Lips began the notorious spectacle of their set with Coyne starting with his once-Coachella prop turned stalwart entrance device, the inflatable walkabout bubble â€šÃ„Ã¬ however this time Coyne only rolled over a walkway by the front of the stage instead of on top of the crowd. As opposed to the typical furry animal costumes, the band was flanked on stage by roughly 40 people in Santa costumes on the right and 40 people in alien costumes on the left, presumably because of their forthcoming movie Christmas on Mars. The costume-laden accompaniment danced with giant flashlights while TFL started with “Race for the Prize” from their much-heralded album The Soft Bulletin.
The set included mostly At War with the Mystics tracks such as “The W.A.N.D.,” “Free Radicals,” “Vein of Stars” and a prompter assisted sing-along of “My Cosmic Autum Rebellion” with other songs sprinkled about. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” highlighted the best of Wayne Coyne and Co.’s offbeat charm, as electronic beeps and squelches offset acoustic fretting. Coyne ended the serene song with the familiar routine of using a nun hand puppet in front of a fisheye video camera as if the nun was singing and guiding the crowd through the “Oh Yoshimi / they don’t believe me / but you won’t let those robots defeat me” refrain.
Neon bracelets were handed out to practically every attendee upon entering the venue, and at this point Coyne directed the house lights be turned off, and that the crowd should hurl every neon piece of jewelry to the stage. The band then stomped through the noisy “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2” as a neon onslaught flew overhead. It was truly something to behold. The set ended with a faithful rendition of “Do You Realize” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots however the strongest moment without doubt was “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” Awkward though it might be perceived on the album, here the line “With all your power / with all your power / with all your power / what would you do?” was positively transcendent. Noticeably absent were such phenomenal songs as “Pompeii Am Gotterdamerung” and “Are You A Hypnotist,” yet the Lips did do a scorching cover of Black Sabbath’s politically aware metal anthem “War Pigs” as their encore.
Day 2: Monday July 24th, Gnarls Barkley / Peeping Tom at the Avalon
One of the hottest tickets in town, Gnarls Barkley with Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom, played just one night later at a hall more like a trendy, waiting-list club than a legitimate venue, the Avalon. In spite of the potentially momentum busting shadiness of the venue’s personnel both bands came with a tight show for what would be an expectedly hard-to-please pretentious crowd. Shows with a predominantly indie rock/hipster crowd tend not to find much dance-worthy or even deserving of more than faint praise, but that fact seemed unknown to the performers here.
Peeping Tom opened the evening comprised of a full band. Mike Patton had enlisted none other than Rahzel along with Imani Coppola, Dub Trio and others to help bring his long gestating pop-opus to life. Patton took the stage in a brilliant head-to-toe white pimpsuit, diving right into a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Desperate Situation” complete with funky electric keyboard (worthwhile to note this cover did not appear on Peeping Tom’s debut but was on the famously leaked demos). The set continued with the shifting sinister/raucous blasts of “Five Seconds” before the smooth electro-hip-hop of “Don’t Even Trip” had the crowd swaying their hands back and forth to Patton’s lyrics of “I know that assholes grow on trees / but I’m here to trim the leaves / I’m afraid / that you’re still my friend.”
Patton then gave the spotlight to Rahzel as he took center stage for a 10-minute freestyle of insane beatboxing which featured both a mashup of Daft Punk’s “Technologic” and Lil Jon’s “Get Low” as well as his own classic rendition of Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew,” simultaneously doing the beats, harmony and chorus redone as “If your mother only knew.” Peeping Tom re-took the stage playing rocking lead single “Mojo” in addition to rarity “Anger Management” from Patton’s 2001 collaboration with Dan the Automator, Kid Koala and Jennifer Charles, Lovage, which Patton delivered the chorus of “Why must God punish me / this way” in a comically exaggerated way. Two of the last three songs (the trip-hop-rock of “Kill The DJ,” the frantic soul-rap of “How U Feelin?”) best exemplified what Peeping Tom is capable of: infectious hooks with ravenously experimental orchestration. The crowd clearly here for Gnarls Barkley might not have been too sure what to make of it all, but in time plenty of others will.
After a long intermission so Gnarls Barkley’s equipment could be set up, the band finally took the stage wearing full 50s regalia a la Grease sans Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo, opening with the movie’s opening theme. As it finished Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo came forth in black leather jackets, sunglasses and with Cee-Lo sporting a full wig of black hair akin to Travolta’s in the movie. Cee-Lo playfully introduced the group as the “G-Birds” claiming they would be performing some of Gnarls Barkley’s greatest songs. Fittingly enough, the group (which had a small string section humorously labeled the G-Strings) got the show rolling with the same opener as St. Elsewhere, “Go-go Gadget Gospel,” an upbeat number that could best be described as gospel mixed with psychotic accordion. Expectedly, the crowd looked confused through the majority of the set. Fighting the uphill battle of an audience present essentially for one song, Gnarls built up momentum with the eclectic soul of “The Boogie Monster,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Just A Thought,” the latter Cee-Lo’s sincere contemplation on depression and suicide.
Cee-Lo stayed in the forefront, leading the band without directing it while Danger Mouse alternated between various keyboards on a riser in the back. DM appeared entirely focused on his performance duties, neither pandering to the crowd nor instructing the supporting performers. He plucked away in determination at the xylophone-style melody of the Violent Femmes “Gone Daddy Gone” as the crowd responded enthusiastically. Danger Mouse was assisted in recreating the lavish orchestration by the immensely talented duo of Clint Walsh and Chris Vrenna, drums and guitar respectively of post-industrial group Tweaker. Walsh and Vrenna added a much-needed layer of energy to songs like “The Last Time” that were sadly absent from the version on the record. The band brought the crowd to a boil before their encore with “Smiley Faces” and smash hit “Crazy.” It was a smart move. Most important for Gnarls Barkley was for the fans to walk away from this show enamored with what they experienced, and by all that was apparent, they surely did. Even if they didn’t immediately react strongly to each of St. Elsewhere’s album tracks, they saw Gnarls Barkley has potential, perhaps even beyond what Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse had thought possible when they created the project.