2nd July 2011 – The Flaming Lips, British Sea Power, Ok Go, Wave Machines, Alice Gold
Back in March I saw an announcement that The Flaming Lips would be playing a gig in the grounds of Jodrell Bank in Cheshire in the shadow of the huge dish of the Lovell Radio Telescope. I have never been a die hard fan of The Flaming Lips, I like them but only have a couple of their albums; Transmissions From The Satellite Heart and The Soft Bulletin, but I had heard that their live shows were something to behold so I thought if I’m ever going to catch them live then this should surely be the perfect location to do so. So I bought myself a ticket.
It turns out I was right to do that quickly as the entire ticket allocation sold out in three weeks. Sure that’s not that quick, but I know of a couple of friends that were left disappointed because they did not act fast enough.
The day arrived and we were lucky enough to have what looked like it was going to be a lovely day, the previous week we had had a brief heatwave which for me would have made standing in the open for hours pretty miserable (I’m not a massive fan of the heat!) but this weekend dawned bright, warm and sunny but not blisteringly hot. Ideal for a day out!
As I used to live pretty close to Jodrell I set off a bit early and had a bit of a drive around checking out the old places before I made my way to the gig, arriving and joining the queue of cars waiting to get in at around 16:30, I thought it was a bit of a cheek to charge everyone £5 for the pleasure of parking in a field as well as the £40 entry fee but I guess perhaps they were trying to persuade people to leave the car at home and go by public transport, judging by the queue they failed!
So after parking the car and trying to visually memorise where it was (I didn’t want a repeat of Leeds Festival a couple of years ago where I couldn’t find it and spent an hour wandering around getting increasingly worried!) I followed the general crowd to the entrance. Once inside (following the obligatory bag check and confiscation of any liquid, including water, how could they fleece you for overpriced bottles inside otherwise!) I was quite surprised to see the whole thing was a fair bit smaller than I thought it was going to be, I had envisioned a festival sized area meaning a scramble to get a decent view that wasn’t a mile away, but the relatively small size meant a decent view did not look like it would be a problem.
The first act were not on until 17:30 so you were free to wander around and get a closer look at the dish, the lawn and seating areas around the base were open until 19:00. They also had scientists giving presentations in one of the nearby buildings, but I had a bit of thirst on so I got myself a beer, as I was driving I could only have a couple so I’d better have them early on. One of the few downsides of the day was, as with most festivals, the ever present lack of choice, it was Carlsberg or Gaymers cider, that was it unless you wanted spirits. So a lukewarm bottle of pissy lager it was (I still can’t drink cider, too many teenage binges!), why can’t these sorts of things put a bit of effort into widening the range, I wouldn’t mind paying over the odds if I could get a drink I liked! Still, at least I wasn’t tempted to drink and then drive!
The first act, Alice Gold came on stage early at around 17:15, from what I’d heard she wasn’t really my thing but unlike festivals where you could go and check out other acts you were a captive audience here. But she was ok, a few pop numbers and she was done in about twenty minutes, maybe the shocks she was getting off her mic that she complained about proved too much!
Following her were Wave Machines, prior to today I had not heard of these guys but they produce a pretty inoffensive brand of indie pop. Nothing that really got me interested but there are certainly worse bands to be watching on stage on a nice sunny afternoon.
Following them were a band that I had always considered to be style over substance. Ok Go are renowned for their superbly clever videos, but I have never been that interested in seeking out more of their music. They had a youtube smash with their video for “Here It Goes Again” in which they performed syncopated dancing on gym treadmills. A video that spawned a copycat advert for Berocca health drink, surely the highest form of flattery! The other video of theirs I have seen that must have taken hours to film is the one for “This Too Shall Pass“. But contrary to my expectations, they put on a very good live performance. Arriving on stage each in different primary coloured suits, they managed to really fire up the crowd, up until then most people had been happy to sit on the grass, drinking and chatting and generally enjoying the atmosphere. But now they were all up on their feet following encouragement from lead singer Damien Kulash, also how often have you seen a band performing a number solely with handbells outside of a Salvation Army hall??
Before the next act Dr Tim O’Brien, astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank, came on stage to tell us a few facts about the sort of work that is done at the site and what the telescope is used for. I am not sure whether he was expecting everyone to sit reverentially quiet and listen to him, if he was he was proved wrong very quickly! There was a lot of good natured heckling and the chant of “Science! Science!” was soon struck up, he played a couple of samples of sounds of pulsars that the telescope is used to study which received a few “oohs” and “aahs” and ironic cheering. In the end he smiled, shrugged and gave up amidst smiles and laughter from crowd and backstage alike, telling us he’d be back after British Sea Power!
British Sea Power were the first act that I was pretty keen to see. As you may know from previous posts on here their current album has been one of this year’s disappointments for me, as a long term fan I have found it to be pretty unremarkable and the show of theirs I saw last year in Leeds also did not do much for me. I have seen the band about four or five times and this was the only show where they failed to impress me, so I was keen to see if that was just a one off aberration. Well, I am pleased to say it seems it was, as they put on a cracking show in the sun! A few of their tunes have a scientific or sci-fi feel (eg. “Atom” off “Do You Like Rock Music” and “Georgie Ray” alluding to George Orwell and sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury off “Valhalla Dancehall”), so perhaps being in such a hallowed scientific location fired them up but I though they really knocked the ball out of the park so to speak! Although TV science superstar and ex D:Ream keyboardist Prof. Brian Cox’s planned appearance did not happen they were joined on stage at the end of their set by their guitar tech in a (very) homemade tin-foil robot suit and someone else in a big, rather tatty looking bear suit who proceeded to have a bit of a scrap. Judging by the smiles and antics of the band they were clearly having great fun and this really rubbed off on the audience.
After BSP wound up it was time to get prepared for the main event. Up until this point I’d been pretty close to the front but during BSP it started getting a little crammed and as I wanted to be able to get a decent full view of the stage for the Flaming Lips show and get a few photographs I made my way a bit further back.
As I said above, a couple of friends had failed to get tickets so I was on my own and did not expect to see anyone I knew being seventy or eighty miles away from home and having not really kept in touch with anyone from when I used to live locally. So imagine my gobsmacked surprise when I found out I was standing next to a friend of mine and his wife who I’d not seen for around fourteen years! He had his back to me and I’d been stood there for a few minutes before I thought I recognised the woman he was with, I’d only met his wife on a few occasions so it was a while before I realised who she ‘reminded’ me of. I had a few surreptitious glances to try and get a view of the face of the guy she was with, and lo and behold if it wasn’t Steve Cimelli, the man who was pretty much single handed in opening my mind and ears and getting me into all this sort of stuff in the first place! Five thousand people and I end up literally stood next to him, it is indeed a small world! So what was already a good day suddenly got even better!
As promised Dr Tim re-appeared on stage and was in contact with the operator of the dish and on his instructions the dish began to turn to face us for the rest of the show, during which he told us a bit more about light (I took a short video of that here). When the dish was in position the stage began to be set for the main attraction, the ubiquitous confetti cannons and strobe light set-ups began to be assembled during which Wayne Coyne appeared on stage to say hello and warn us that he would be venturing out over the audience in his now trademark bubble.
The sun was nearly set, the lights went down and the culmination of the day and the reason most people had come, began (I also did a video of the opening, it’s only a few minutes as my camera’s memory stick was full).
Following his zorbing sojourn around the crowd, they went into “She Don’t Use Jelly” and, as the saying goes, the crowd went wild! I don’t know their back catalog well enough to provide a full setlist (I’m sure it’s out there on the net somewhere if you want to look) but over the course of an hour and a half they played all the crowd pleasers; “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”, “Race For The Prize” and closing out with “Do You Realize?” (little trivia fact; this song is now the official song of Oklahoma, the band’s home town!)
During the set the sides of the stage were filled with lots of girls/women dressed as Dorothy, and there were one or two lions and tin robots. Part way through the show the lights were lowered and the giant telescope dish became one of the biggest projection screens I have ever seen, if only Sir Bernard Lovell could have seen his face filling the 76 metre dish I’m sure he would have approved!
Lasers, confetti, balloons, smoke and a camera attached to the mic stand giving us a huge close up of Wayne’s face all went together to produce one of the most joy filled, smile inducing shows I have seen for many a year!
Not having seen them previously I cannot compare, but it seemed as if the band, and especially Wayne Coyne were really enjoying themselves. There was even an on-stage marriage proposal before the first encore between a guy called Rob and one of the Dorothys (I think she said yes, it was difficult to tell, I think she was a little too surprised!)
After all this and even though the automotive scrum to get out of the place took an hour and a half with upwards of 2,000 cars all trying to get out through one small lane at once (I think they need to do something about that before they hold another one of these), and the fact that I didn’t get home until 02:30, the general good feeling instilled by the great show and the happy crowd made it all worth it and depending on who they get next time I would be happy to go again, roll on Transmission 002 whenever that may be!
There are some excellent, more professional photos on the Jodrell Bank Live site here.