Louder Than Lightning

lightning over waterOK, so last week I told you guys I went somewhere and saw something and had a good time, but then before I could tell you what it was I got distracted, talking about all the different things I can do while I’m driving, like file my nails, read National Geographic, etc. This week, I am determined to report on actual music events, starting with the Beck/Flaming Lips show at the Orpheum in Boston a few weeks ago.

The Flaming Lips started off with a dizzy, low-rent, psychedelic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spectacular, which featured movies, confetti-filled balloons, and occasional band- and audience-members in furry alien and animal costumes. The mood was definitely celebratory (despite the lonely, displaced feeling of many of the melodies), with singer Wayne Coyne as our guide and amiable, outgoing ringmaster and cheerleader.

Then, after a short break (during which the Flaming Lips made an unusual point of packing up their own gear, right down to sweeping the confetti off the stage), Beck came on solo, dressed in a muted brown suit if I recall correctly, and sang three or four real shoe gazers off his depressing new album on a bare stage with only his acoustic for accompaniment (this fairly closely following the wild funk and choreographed dance moves of his recent “Odelay” shows!) You’ve got to give him credit -whatever it was, it wasn’t pandering.

In fact, it was fairly challenging, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. Both the show and his new album, “Sea Change” (DGC), are surprisingly restrained, even dignified pieces of work, both often quite lovely and both often inhabiting that same lonely, yearning terrain that the Flaming Lips are on lately; as different as their presentations were, their recent music is similar: often pretty and touching, rarely faster than mid-tempo, spacious, grand.

The Lips came on to back up Beck for the bulk of his show, and I was interested to see that the drummer had a completely different sound for the headliner, much drier and less affected. I had never been a fan of his playing, but the show pointed out that his playing is actually fine, it’s just the histrionic, mushy-boomy faux-John Bonham drum sound that stinks -he sounded much better without it.

Anyway, I think Beck might be a genius of some sort; at the very least, he’s a fine and unpredictable provocateur, and thus welcome anytime. The new album is moody and lovely, both way different and way better than his last.

That said, I’d be more comfortable with his latest guise if the register he sings in all the time lately didn’t make him sound so much like Gordon Lightfoot, or that guy from the evil, post-Denny Laine Moody Blues -is it Justin Heyward? I’ll bet it is.

Damn, I hate when I know things like that by mistake. If only I could remove the part of my brain that knows the names of obscure character actors from terrible TV shows I’ve never even seen -that part that not only reads TV Guide but, most tragically, retains things -if only I could fill that part with more useful knowledge, with something I wasn’t embarrassed about knowing. Or not even that, perhaps just use it as a storage space for leftover paper clips and rubber bands or something -even that would be an upgrade. It’s terrible knowing these things. I mean, Justin Heyward! Please!

I also went to Lupo’s in Providence a couple of weeks ago to see Sonic Youth and Lightning Bolt, both of whom were fun, but a little less noisy than I expected. Both bands are interested in noise and dissonance, and I hadn’t been to one of those shows for awhile, and I was wondering if noisy music had gotten any noisier than it had been in my hay day (back in the thirties or so.) I was even a little worried, and wondered if perhaps I should’ve brought some earplugs (something I’ve never done before in my life.)

I am surprised to report that it wasn’t all that loud -you could always talk easily to the person next to you, and it wasn’t ever painful or excruciating -afterwards, my ears weren’t even ringing. Frankly, I was a little disappointed -I was sort of hoping to have my brains blasted out (more room for paper clips and rubber bands.) The music was fine, though, especially Lightning Bolt, a bizarro bass and drum duo who set up in the middle of the audience and started blasting away right after the other band got off (as is their won’t); they were intense, hilarious, and riveting, and they got the crowd (which had been mostly stationary for Sonic Youth) moving in crazy waves.

Still, I got a little concerned that today’s kids might not be getting their quota of deafening, thunderous, roaring, volcanic volume, and I strongly urge all loud rock bands to turn up a little. The point is, you shouldn’t be able to talk to someone at a show like this -certainly not without yelling into their ear. The fact that it sounded fine has nothing to do with it -people just need to be blasted every once in a while; otherwise, their ears will get out of shape and flappy.

This week, for instance, we have Bim Skala Bim at the Beach Break in Eastham on Friday (the 6th), and Bruce Maclean and the Maplewoods appearing at the Claddagh in Harwichport on Saturday (the 7th), and I challenge both of these stalwarts to play way louder than usual, for only in great volume can true honor be granted. I know they won’t let me down.

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