Nights Like These: Music Fest, Day 1 May 2, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts, Memphis.
Tags: Beale Street Music Festival, Cage the Elephant, Cake, Flaming Lips, Manchester Orchestra, Memphis, MGMT, transcendence
Friday morning I sat in my cubicle, fidgety with anticipation and with my mind running wild as I tried in vain to focus my energy on the tasks at hand, but after a few agonizing hours I quickly packed up and departed for the week. The day was here, and the biggest weekend-long music event of the year was upon us – the Beale Street Music Festival.
I’m a longtime attendee of Music Fest, only missing a handful of them since the mid-90’s, but never before had I ever seen a lineup the caliber of this year. From the day almost two months ago that they announced the bands, I’d been looking forward to this weekend with its big crowds, muddy feet, and eardrum-blasting music, waiting impatiently for the calendar dates to speed along and take me down to those banks of the mighty Mississippi.
That afternoon I rendezvoused with my friends Chris, Jerry, and Dan, and we soon headed over to the festival. It was a perfect evening, with clear skies overhead, a relatively dry ground beneath our feet, and temperatures hovering near the ideally comfortable mark. After making a run to the beer tent, we hiked over to catch some of indie rock band Manchester Orchestra’s set and, though I wasn’t that familiar with them, I found them to be an enjoyable way to kick off the weekend. We then met up with two more friends, Berry and Meredith, and witnessed a high-energy set from another newer alt-rock outfit, Cage the Elephant, that I enjoyed a great deal. I’ll have to make a point to check out some of their stuff later.
Next on the agenda was 1990’s alt-rock stalwart Cake, a band that first hit it big around the time I graduated from high school and went to college and that I always liked pretty well. Granted, I hadn’t kept up with any of their work since that time, but I still wanted to make a point to see their live show. I was impressed with how well their quirky nature and monotone-voiced singer came across in concert and even though I did not know several of the songs they played, it was a fun experience. I also ran into Sam, one of my brother’s best friends growing up, and got to hang out with he and his wife for a short time. It was great to see them, even though I wish we had had more time to catch up before losing each other while trekking over to the next band.
But these acts were merely an appetizer for what awaited us that Friday night, two of the bands that I most wanted to see at this year’s festival: MGMT and the Flaming Lips. It was after 9:00 when MGMT hit the stage with a crazy, psychedelic splash of color erupting on the screen behind them. The band, led by former Memphian Andrew VanWyngarden, ran through several selections from both of their albums, creating a kaleidoscopic tapestry across the Memphis sky and inviting us all to take part. From the opening strumming of “Pieces of What,” through the incredible “Time to Pretend,” racing by with a frantic “Brian Eno,” hovering with a totally mind-altering “Siberian Breaks,” and hitting the smash “Kids,” before ending with a rousing rendition of “Congratulations,” these guys were on fire that night.
The MGMT set then was like stepping into some weird, psychotropic worm hole, picking up the concert goers and transporting them across dimensions in a blaze of light and sound before depositing them in a whole new land, a strange and distant planet on which dwells the night’s headliner, the Flaming Lips. And if you’ve ever been to a Lips show, then you would most definitely agree that they are from some fantastical other world. I had heard many stories over the years of Lips’ shows, but nothing could have prepared me for the visual feast that awaited us on Friday night. It had everything you could imagine as well as some things that may only be found in the far reaches of an acid-soaked hallucination, from crazy lights to seemingly millions of pieces of confetti to giant colored balls bouncing around the audience to vocalist Wayne Coyne donning two gigantic hands that shot lasers into a disco ball. There were dancing people costumed as everything from giant bears to Wizard of Oz-types, and a multitude of other things, most of which were nearly impossible to keep up with because of the enormity of the spectacle. Coyne even climbed inside his giant, clear hamster ball and walked out over the crowd at one point, rolling around atop the masses as the crowd went wild with jubilant shout after jubilant shout. And then, of course, was the music, my God the incredible, soaring, sonic sounds of the Flaming Lips tearing through all the weird artistry, roping the madness together into one giant throng of joy. They played a number of selections from their immense catalog, gleefully cartwheeling through songs like, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, pt. 1,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” “Convinced of the Hex,” and “See the Leaves,” and even took the time to invite MGMT back onto the stage for a reimagining of their aforementioned tune “Kids,” before their transcendent, almost religious closer, “Do You Realize?” blew like a volcano into the sky, showering the concertgoers with such joyful exuberance and beauty that it is beyond words to describe. It was truly an experience not to be forgotten.
It was tiring, yet wonderful evening, and when I arrived back at my home around 2:00 am, I slid into bed, exhausted, but at the same time filled with light and joy in a way that I could almost shoot it from my fingertips, unable to contain the otherworldly glory of the vision I had just beheld.
Next: Day 2