ON the Beat | Of Lips and Godly Flowers
Last Weekend’s Cultural Dance Card included the Flaming Lips, the Orchid Show and the Oscars, with some Surprising Overlap
This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on March 16, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
From Wayne’s Lips…
I had heard bits and pieces of the Flaming Lips and was vaguely intrigued, but I didn’t become a rabid-ish fan until I heard them at the Arlington in 2002. This is a live act like none other in the rock ’n’ roll games, as I learned from their opening set for Beck, who they then provided backup band services for that night. But Beck’s show paled miserably compared to the cheeky extravaganza of the Lips sensation, replete with dancing audience members inducted into animal costume choreography, a bleary onslaught of mega balloons in the house, and leader Wayne Coyne’s uniquely cheeky, semi-satirical boosterist and prog-pop spectacularity on stage. Needless to say, the Lips stole the show, big time.
This Oklahoma City sensation has since wowed us in the big al fresco “room” of the Santa Barbara Bowl, but last week’s return to the Arlington proved that this may be one of the band’s most ideal venues, in all its grand and kitschy glory. Through the band’s thrilling set (replete with lyrics writ large and in all-caps on the screen), Coyne was the excitable leader, insisting that the energy keep flowing and that the crowd kept up its screaming “not for us, but because screaming just makes everything better.” He offered a winking Beatles reference while basking in the room and the collective vibe of this post-pandemic gathering, booming out, “It’s wonderful to be here; it certainly is a thrill!” early on before launching into the mortality-aware anthem “Do You Realize.”
Of course, at a Lips concert, there will be inflatables, from the literal bubble he was sometimes immersed in to the giant robot to the grand finale balloon-atic statement “Fuck yeah, Santa Barbara!” sent crowd-surfing into the happy Arlington throng. Some lucky fans went home with a silver mylar letter as a souvenir. Y’all come back now.
Mythic Orchid Outing
My wife being more of a well-adjusted fan and advocate of nature, especially of the plant and bird varieties, she has a natural and appropriate appreciation of Santa Barbara’s legendary International Orchid Show, which made its annual landing at Earl Warren Showgrounds last weekend. As for myself, having a more unnatural and obsessive cultural filter on the world, the event always stirs in me associations with Charlie Kaufman and Parry Gripp.
Kaufman, of course, is the mad doctor director whose film Adaptation (the irreverent adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief) was shot partly in this very Orchid Show, before splintering off into assorted narrative psychedelia. Gripp, of course, is the friendly mad doctor rock star of Nerf Herder and Parry Gripp fame, who grew up in the lap of orchidaceous orchid-growing lineage. His father, Paul Gripp, managed the famed Santa Barbara Orchid Estate for 30-plus years starting in 1957, and Parry now owns the widely renowned company with his sister Alice, and even has an orchid to his name — the Paphiopedilum Parry Gripp, established in 1974. (Incidental note: I also have a flower with my name, the “Joe Woodard Rose.” Music critic colleague Ben Ratliff alerted me to this a few years ago, having spied it at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens).
When not entertaining grown-ups with Nerf Herder’s clever alt-rock and smirk-punk peregrinations, Gripp has become a world-famous kids’ culture hero of the family-friendly music animation sort. Check out his mega-hit “Raining Tacos” (here), also covered, in moody mode, by Norah Jones (here). Not sure if Gripp has created any odes to orchids yet.
But we digress, slightly. While it was hard to find musical angles here vis-à-vis this column’s purview — apart from the innate alliance between nature’s rhythms and harmonies with musical language — I did appreciate the piano keys cleverly woven into Maxine Jagiello’s orchid arrangement, over in Las Floralias’ floral design club area. Thumbs up.
John Williams did not win his Oscar last Sunday, the film score statue having gone to Volker Bertelmann’s juicy, modern-textured score for All Quiet on the Western Front. (In sadder musical news, the brilliant classical-music-worldly Tár went away unjustly empty-handed in this Everything Everywhere–swamped sweepstakes). But Williams, the 91-year-old film composer, has officially won the spotlight of this weekend’s Santa Barbara Symphony program (see story here).
Many opera-philes have grown accustomed to long-distance HD screenings of Metropolitan Opera performances. Others among us remain agnostic about subjecting this ideally live and in-person, ancient live cultural art form to beam-me-upmanship, preferring to only selectively succumb when special and/or contemporary operas are on tap.
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