As we turn the corner onto Decatur, the security guards make clear that some sort of something is taking place and we need to move somehow back, to the side, over, and right now. I hear a tuba. Our friend from VH1 greets us along one of the barriers facing the New Orleans Music Factory. I walk to the box office to pick up my cred and run into People Say brethren Grant Ingram, who was hired 23 hours ago and rushed to Memphis to take stills of the trip. A stunt like this spits out work in many directions.
This evening marks the conclusion of the 3rd annual O Music Awards, a web-based award show produced by Viacom to recognize the best music-related uses of social media. Fans vote on awards like Best Artist With A Cameraphone (Selena Gomez, winner), Best Online Concert Experience (30 Seconds to Mars), and Digital Genius Award (iamamiwhoami). The most-frequently-voting fans receive their own awards. The whole thing culminates with this Flaming Lips microtour to break the record for most shows performed in 24 hours (currently held by Jay-Z). Sponsors include Virgin Mobile, Starbucks, and Capital One.
Inside the House of Blues, we stand at the dining room bar and watch a live feed as the Lips arrive in front of the club, escorted by the Stooges and a few floats and puppets. The camera angle makes the procession outside resemble a Macy’s Day parade, complete with a VH1 interviewer who converses with the band’s frontman, a slightly bewildered Wayne Coyne. We enter the main room and take a place at the bar stage left.
A disco ball and several large inflatables decorate the stage where the Lips rainbow-wrapped amplifiers await the finale. Another VH1 personality directs us to the video screens where we can watch the last 24 hours. I turn to see a close up of Big Freedia and then the ass of her dancer.
The band takes the stage. Coyne appears half-beatific, half-deranged, a fitting image for a 51-year old Okie on very little sleep. He begins the anthem. “Do you reaaaaalize….?” A great rock ‘n roll moment, completed by the Lips’ cutting edge confetti and klieg lights, lasers and simple, Beatlesque harmony. The girl in front of me text messages: she is trapped against the bar.
The next song is “She Don’t Use Jelly.” I note the bassist’s hammer and sickle t-shirt and the increase of weed smoke and then the chanted chorus of “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” When that song ends, the interviewer returns and the crowd roars. “We made history here tonight,” he announces. I think about the Supreme Court as onstage there are jokes re: Jay-Z and whether he’ll call and concede or seek revenge. The officials from Guinness appear, a plucky man and a bookish woman. They make it official. Coyne thanks the fans in every town and the band resumes. They sound like they should’ve stopped after the finish line, but quickly rally around “What Is The Light?,” another cut from The Soft Bulletin. A stunt like this requires veterans.
A catalog of majestic hooks, sweet rejoinders, and emotional keyboards is also helpful, and the comparison with Jay-Z is actually rather obvious. My mind wanders to Radiohead poolside at Spring Break 1994, to “Baba O’Riley” and Jarret Lofstead‘s hatred of The Who, to this horrible article about the Dead in the Atlantic, and to all the footage captured in all the cameras and smartphones held aloft by this polite, pastel, slightly punchy crowd. The Flaming Lips keep fighting fatigue, keep digging for more rock and showmanship, a band harnessing considerable power while running on ethereal fumes. Inside a plastic bubble, Coyne surfs the crowd, then dons two large hands, each blessed with stigmata that launch lasers across the face paint and costumes and over the long camera that streams this event to online viewers current and future.
A few million dollars in advertising revenue. Internet content flowing at optimal capacity for 24 hours through a nimble website. A great band and their assorted opening acts. A few thousand tweets and 30,000 followers. 9 shows across 699 miles, Memphis to New Orleans. One broken record and the two hippie girls near the amps who disappeared in fog. We can have it all in quick bursts these days.