Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is watched by a herd of Santas on stage at the SoCo Music Festival.
The music stars aligned in Madison on Saturday, September 8 in the form of two free music festivals featuring both national artists and some of most notable local bands in action.
The Memorial Union Terrace was the site of the inaugural SoCo Music Experience, notably headlined by the Flaming Lips in their first show in town since 2001.
One festival would be sure to generate attention from music fans in and around Madison. Both, though, made for a live music confluence that inspired plenty of attendees to share their experiences online. Live reports, photos, reviews, and commentary from both festivals follow:
- Starting at the Snake on the Lake festival, Jason Smathers, a DJ at WSUM and editorial page editor for The Badger Herald, blogged through the day from Memorial Union. He commented on the bands and audience at this much smaller and ground-level festival:
- "It's about 30 minutes before the German Art Students and it's already getting too hot for comfort," begins Smathers. "The terrace isn't exactly packed for a Saturday afternoon, but it's getting there."
- More than an hour later, he commented on the first transition of the day. "A nice 45 minute set punctuated by Pixies-pop rock and a spoken word finale," he writes. "Now DLO and Stink Tank are loading up to bring a little hip-hop to the crowd."
- The festival continued to run smoothly as the afternoon lengthened and the arrival of the first two groups from outside Madison, namely Maps & Atlases and The 1900s. It was still fairly hot, though. "The front of the stage has filled up finally, but the dancing is a bit...bobble-headed," wrote Smathers. "Just going back and forth. I guess that's what indie rock does to people."
- In his fourth report from the terrace, he comments on the ongoing performances and arrival of the two headliners, Leslie Hall and The Ponys. "In true radio fashion, the WSUM DJ's are walking around with microphones, interviewing patrons, band members and other such involved people," he notes.
- Smathers concludes with some praise for Leslie & the Lys. "Alright, so it's a bit low budget in comparison to the Lips..." he declares, "but it works."
- "Despite an uninspiring name, the four bands I saw at the Terrace for Snake on the Lake were excellent," wrote Nick Giffin in his review of the festival on the shores of Lake Mendota. He commented on the performances by the German Art Students, the 1900s, Leslie and the Ly's, and The Ponys. "It seems the Snake on the Lake was a success," Giffin concludes, "and I hope to see it again next year."
- A series of video clips of the 1900s, Cowboy Mouth, German Art Students, Pale Young Gentlemen, and Leslie and the Lys playing at the Snake on the Lake festival were published on Dane101.
- Chris Norris published a photo gallery at Dane101 capturing the performances by Pale Young Gentlemen, 1900s, Leslie and the Ly's, and The Ponys at the Snake on the Lake festival.
Many, many more people shared their thoughts about and photos of the SoCo Music Experience held on Willow Island.
- The Madison-based rock band photo of the set-up at Willow Island
- A photo of the roots group del mar, a local jam band originally founded at UW-Whitewater in the late '90s.
- A photo of the rock trio Sick Puppies, who hail from L.A. by way of Sydney, Austrailia.
- Finally, the band published a photo gallery of their own performance on the SoCo stage.
- "So Madison is now party central for these free liquor marketing shows, and this was the biggest one yet," he writes. After critiquing the afternoon set by Cowboy Mouth, notes the excitement of the audience for the Flaming Lips to introduce the first video, featuring the Oklahoma group playing "Race for the Prize" from their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. "The enthusiasm from the audience upon recognizing it was something I haven't seen in Madison since... well, the last time was probably when I first saw Nine Inch Nails about seven and a half years ago, and that was before I even lived here," noted Veenstra. "It's the ferociously blissful energy of a Big Show, and I don't know anything else like it."
- His second video captures the Lips' performance of "Mountainside" from their early album In a Priest Driven Ambulance. "It felt like a bit like an unearthed fossil, an epic batch of fuzz and streamers as Wayne Coyne tried valiantly to fire his confetti blaster through a cymbal, and then closed the song out with a series of massive gong strikes," concluded Veenstra. "That they could construct a stage show so intertwined with, in particular, their last two albums' worth of music, but also seamlessly drop in a 17-year-old album cut, was really impressive."
- The third clip of the Lips finds the band playing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" from their similarly-titled album. Describing a touching tribute to the American servicepersons being killed abroad, Veenstra notes the sentiment permeating the show. "The shows other best moments were in many ways symbolic as well. This version of 'Yoshimi Pt. 1' came courtesy of a synthesized toy piano sound and the voices of thousands of people acting as one," he wrote. "That they have made bringing this from town to town into a successful commercial enterprise is testament to the occasional awesomeness of us all."
- Veenstra also shot a pair of video clips of the Cold War Kids' time on stage. The first video features the group playing "God, Make Up Your Mind" from their debut album Robbers & Cowards.
- "Compared with the Jack Daniels show we saw in March, the pitch put on by Southern Comfort was almost non-existent. There were logos everywhere, of course, and there were no other liquors available, but there was also no free swag for those of us who didn't get into the VIP sections," writes Veenstra in the introduction to the second video of the Cold War Kids, which features "Rubidoux" by the band. "The one band who seemed a little irked by the corporate setting was Cold War Kids, but even that only showed in a couple of off-hand comments," he concluded. "Their set was as driven as the set we saw at the Annex last year, and their reputation as a terrific live band was certainly validated."
When my 11th hour attempts at getting press credentials failed, fate stepped in... Needless to say, a total and random run in with a stranger proceeded to land me smack dab on stage with the Flaming Lips as one of the dancing aliens, and I got some amazing shots of the show. Here's one photo. There are definitely times when being a female photographer works to my advantage. I hope the multitude of gentlemen photographers on the ground got nice shots as well. If it took dancing in a shiny purple alien costume to get stage access… so be it...Maniaci also published a photo gallery from the Lips' set as seen from an up-close perspective on stage right.
The show was an absolute blast. As expected they touched on all the hits like "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "She Don't Use Jelly." Highlights of the night were "Do You Realize" and the "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Other than a semi-contrived anti-war rant prefacing "Yeah, yeah, yeah", everyone enjoyed yet another bizarre and crazy Flaming Lips show. How can these guys do this day in and day out I wonder?
The SoCo Music "Experience" felt more like taping a commercial about a music experience. It was immediately obvious that a disproportionate percentage of funds were invested on creating the superficial festival infrastructure and atmosphere instead of creating a solid lineup. For most of the early afternoon, small groups of Madisonians were strewn about the huge field on blow-up SoCo-branded furniture, waiting around and looking bored. The crowd huddling around the shade at the back of the event was larger than the crowd huddling at the front of the stage. The characteristic Madison kool-aide died hair and ripped army pants looked like costumes against the backgroup of sleek corporate advertising. A laughably excessive "DJ" tent shaped like a lime sprayed machine-fabricated smoke and pounding bass at people checking their emails and writing blog posts like this.Pfister also remarked upon the sparse crowd at the SoCo festival earlier in the day, and the visually robust performance of the Flaming Lips despite the ubiquitous liquor branding. The Snake on the Lake festival, both in terms of music and beverages, was more to his liking. "Leslie Hall stole the show as usual, but the Pale Young Gentlemen also offered an extremely strong set that had the young crowd wondering how they hadn't heard them before," he concluded.
The show was nothing less than spectacular. Huge balloons flying out at a near endless rate, confetti being shot out of guns and huge cannons, lights and smoke, there was never a dull moment throughout their entire set. The only somewhat sobering moment was when Coyne explained that the coronet he was using actually had a microphone in it and was part of the military war machine in that not enough military band members were available to play "Taps" for fallen soldiers, so that awful contraption was created, taking away all humanity from the death and destruction caused by war much like Donald Rumsfeld's famous automatic pen used to inform families of their deceased loved ones.
The crowd was pleased to hear that the SoCo Music Experience will return next year, and in my opinion, the Flaming Lips should grace our wonderful city once again.
More blogging about these two festivals can be found in Madison Miscellany along with reviews, commentary, and media from many other concerts held in town.