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  The Variety Playhouse  
  Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA  
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A basic law of economics tells us that any commodity derives its value from its scarcity. The harder a piece of memorabilia is to procure, the more limited its access, the more value we place on it. I’ve always thought that this phenomenon was problematic when it came to concerts. On one hand, the entire reason you go to a show is for that one experience in time, “the experience of people making music in a room,” as Ani Difranco once sang. This is something rare, something to be valued. However, put yourself in the band’s shoes. They are in Atlanta tonight, forging that special bond with the denizens of the Tabernacle or Smith’s Olde Bar, but the night before they were in Knoxville, or Jacksonville maybe, forging that same bond. The rarity of it must dissipate quickly, one would imagine. Thus, you often have bands going through the motions, no matter how hard they try not to, and the special-ness of the evening diminishes; the sheen comes off it, and some of the value is necessarily lost.

Still, there’s that occasional show where, whatever reasons or circumstances have allowed it, the uniqueness of the night remains untarnished. The rarity of the experience is palpable enough to be felt physically by the audience, like a knot in the stomach during the early portions a fantastically successful first date. The Flaming Lips recently played such a show at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta’s Little Five Points. Having been on tour with Beck (opening for the coolest Hansen and then acting as his backup band), it’s not like The Flaming Lips haven’t been slugging it out night after night. However, this Atlanta show was an anomaly in that Beck was nowhere to be seen; The Lips were headlining, playing more than the seven or eight song opening act allotment. And the crowd was appreciative. I was waiting in line next to a girl who had driven the eight hours up from Orlando for this one show, pretty sure but not certain she had a guest list ticket waiting for her. Two couples behind me were playing the game, “If someone offered you $500 for your ticket, would you take it?”, and the answer was invariably no. “How often am I going to get the chance to see The Flaming Lips in my lifetime,” one girl defended her romantic attitude towards her immediate economic future. Indeed, a commodity’s value is determined by its scarcity.

The question remains, though, what kind of band is The Flaming Lips? Do they deserve such slavish and economically foolhardy devotion? Was the show worth it? Well, I’m not the type to put a monetary value on shows because concerts and music are emotional things, and comparing emotions with money is comparing apples and oranges. So, emotionally, I’ll simply say that the show was wonderful. If I could use one word to describe the band’s music, I’d use “joyous.” My only other experience seeing them play live music was when they were on Conan Halloween night. They played that show clad in costume, of course, and surrounded by superfluous people dressed in big animal costumes, more benign versions of the big rabbit costume that kid wears in Donnie Darko.

At the Variety, four days later, they came out again clad in such costumes, as did more than a few members of the crowd. Some of these were asked on stage, given two of those big police flashlights to wave around. So, when the lights went down and the band came out, surrounded by kids in puffy bear and elephant and cat costumes, the crowd broke into a loud reverie much more immediate than other concerts I’ve been to. Those in the costumes began waving the flashlights around, which reflected off the huge disco ball hanging behind the band, and the entire place danced with light. It was like a carnival; huge beach balls filled with confetti were batted around over the crowd, raining the confetti down whenever one popped. The entire scene was nothing other than joyous.

The music itself fit the carnival scene quite well. The Flaming Lips rely on keyboards to provide a soundscape that enriches the standard drum, bass, and guitar sound of the alternative band they might appear to be. Older and wiser than most bands of their “alternative” ilk, they write songs and music that are humanist in nature, providing a more current version of sixties songs about people trying their best to be good when life and love go bad. Let’s face it, you can’t write the current equivalent of “Come on people now, smile on each other,” without taking the piss out of yourself at the same time. So while the “love vibe” is definitely at the forefront of the band’s music, there’s a goofiness that removes any danger of them sounding trite. Rather, their songs come across as lush, romantic, multi-layered, and important even, in that they somehow manage to sound hopelessly sad and transcendently happy at the same time.

To illustrate: during Do You Realize, the song that captures the sadly happy vibe the most, those costume clad fans on stage made their way off the stage and through the standing room area at The Variety, moving their bulky costumes through the shoulder to shoulder crowd and patting everyone on the back, on the shoulder, on the head. One girl kept stopping to hug every third or fourth stranger she passed. Meanwhile, Wayne Coyne, the charismatic front man of the band, who sounds like a quirky, pleasantly nineties version of Neil Young, sang the following lyrics:

“Do you realize
that you have the most beautiful face, do you realize
we’re floating in space, do you realize
that happiness makes you cry, do you realize
that everyone you know someday will die
and instead of saying all of your goodbyes,
let them know you realize”

This moment captures the vibe of the concert most exactly. It was strange, beautiful, and joyous. To some it may seem odd, but what else would you expect from a band that writes and performs songs about a young Japanese woman doing karate battle with pink robots in order to save mankind? It almost seemed like this was less of a concert and more of a tearfully happy, long awaited reunion. And perhaps the reason for all this sentiment was that this was a one-time show, an unexpected delight before the band rejoined Beck and became relegated to back-up status once again. Or perhaps it was just the sheer joy housed in the music that created the vibe. Maybe it was some combination of the two. But whatever the reason, you can be sure that The Flaming Lips put on a unique experience that night in Little Five Points. And the rarity of the experience, the uniqueness of the band, exponentially increased the show’s value in the eyes of those who were there.

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