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The Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth at the Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul, MN)

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It was the opening day of the State Fair and the weather was atrocious. Months we had waited, my sister and I, and up to this point the summer had been one of the hottest and driest in history. But today was one of those days that balanced the averages as nature leveled the score with summer’s blistering hot temperatures and expelled a strain of harmful weather conditions onto most of the state. Much of Southern Minnesota saw tornadoes and baseball sized hail and most everywhere was entirely shrouded in thunder storm warnings. Our journey, originally scheduled for an 11:00am kick-off, was delayed until roughly 3:30pm as hail and torrential rains hit even the most northern of The Twin Cities’ suburbs. But deciding that it was worth the venture into the beastly conditions, my sister and I took off as the weather took a break from punishing the earth.

It was my first State Fair experience and the entire time it was shrouded by a distant feeling of the supernatural as a series of events seemed to shape the day into something close to perfect. We had made it to the bus stop mere seconds before it departed for the fair, something far from the norm for us. We seemed to find shelter each and every time that the showers returned while walking the fair grounds, something many unforntunate people did not find. And we ran into a number of friends, including a few traveling from far out of the cities, whom we had not even remotely expected to see. As time became scarce we found ourselves waiting in a growing mob outside of the Grandstand roughly an hour before The Magic Numbers were set to take the stage. Coincidentally it was right about this time when the severe downpours returned. We took shelter in the Grandstand only to find ourselves now worried as it looked as though we wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience the concert that we had both waited months to see.

Seconds before its scheduled start time of 7:30pm the rain subsided and the clouds opened up, allowing the sun its first full visit of the day. It was euphoric, the storm had settled just when we were at the breaking point of whether or not the show would actually go on as planned. I was talking to a girl standing next to me and mentioned something to the effect of “all of our collective prayers blowing the clouds out of sight.” Thankfully the high winds that were in fact blowing the storm clouds out of sight were a few hours behind, and waited until after the show had ended before continuing with the rain.

We were two teenagers rioting for a spot to see the show that over 8000 concert goers eventually showed up for. Waiting by the stage, we caught a number of glimpses of Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips’ 45 year old lead singer, helping the stage crew dry the setting and assemble for the party that was to come. And we waited. And Coyne excited the crowd, helping the sea of bodies forget the damp conditions. And we waited some more.

Then an official took the stage, announcing that The Magic Numbers’ gear was saturated and the band couldn’t perform, leaving the show openers out of the loop as the crowd’s growing anticipation mounted. A variety of tracks ranging by artists from The Germs to The Rolling Stones wafting through the air and with Sonic Youth’s revised start time of 8:00pm far behind us the lights went dark and the band entered in typical, no frills, fashion.

Though the crowd was utterly saturated before the first chord was heard, time stood still for a few hours as my sister, myself and the rest of attendees to the Minnesota State Fair experienced a miraculous cease fire with nature. Sonic Youth banged the set’s opener, and personal favorite, “Teenage Riot,” as the crowd slowly worked itself out of its depressed state and into a mood suitable for rocking. Following the first song, guitarist Lee Ranaldo grinded his guitar on the ground, creating a pentagon like parameter with which his guitar summoned the utmost uncontrolled feedback demons.

As the entire band joined in on the reverb frenzy, frontman Thurston Moore and Ranaldo crossed axes as a finale to the brooding noise parade. Shortly after Sonic Youth took a dreamier pace with the Kim Gordon-lead song from its latest album, Rather Ripped, “Reena.” Gordon forced her petite gasps while taking brief breaks to go-go and spin around the stage. While focusing on the band’s ever-present experimentalism it became clear that its set, which was far too short for good taste, would prove a psychedelic introduction for what would come. After teasing an after-show appearance at a local diner the band closed with a song that had previously broken down, “Do You Believe In Rapture?” I couldn’t help but feel like the band would be retaking the stage momentarily as they were Sonic Youth and, by god, deserved more stage time. The band had released some 22 albums and played for a countless number of fans over its 25 year history and couldn’t possibly be content with playing for roughly an hour. But like it or not, the band’s performance of “Eric’s Trip,” “Sleeping’ Around” and “Incinerate” among others would have to suffice, as on this night, the stage would belong to The Flaming Lips.

Another long wait as the crew struggled against the winds to raise the screen that would eventually provide the night’s visually stunning accompaniment to the Lips’ active on-stage explosion. Right before the band took the stage for its performance my sister mentioned that she hoped the Santas would show up and a guy standing behind her told her that it was a little out of season for that, “Don’t ya think?” As the lights lowered we found ourselves close enough to the stage to see what was happening in the darkness, and we saw first hand Coyne penetrate the now inflated bubble and take to the crowd as the lights boomed with the set’s welcoming song of introduction, “Race For The Prize”.

My sister’s visual rebuttal to the overzealous Santa disbeliever’s comments joined the stage along with the usual go-go dancing alien babes as the ever present confetti and streamers helped the set shift into the hard driving “Free Radicals.” After thoroughly pumping the crowd into its enchanted state Coyne took his place at the camera-enhanced microphone to announce that he had spoken to the concert’s promoter and he was told that it would be alright if the band played a little past schedule. With that he handed the stage, dancing Santas and aliens intact, over to London’s The Magic Numbers who proceeded to deliver a wonderful acoustic-guitar driven mini-set (sorry, no pictures).

It was Coyne’s genuine appreciativeness for the stage crew’s hard work, the crowd’s patience and for the fact that his band was sharing the stage with Sonic Youth and The Magic Numbers that served as a perfect display of what makes The Flaming Lips as crowd friendly as it is. Drummer Kliph Scurlock took a stance near the edge of the stage greeting fans before the performance and assisted with the raising of the mammoth screen. Children and wives were on the side of the stage, and the band never for a second gave the audience anything less than the experience of a lifetime as it ripped through “The W.A.N.D.,” “Yoshimi… Parts 1 & 2,” “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” and the mainstream favorite “Do You Realize?” As the band’s members proved themselves to be real, the band itself further provoked thoughts that somehow that strange supernatural feeling I had had previously in the day was taking form.

Leaving the stage briefly only to return moments later, giant hands galore, to play Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” confirmed a glorious end to a day that took most everyone in attendance through a wave of emotions. We were attacked by oversized balloons and streamers while galloping Santas and go-go dancing aliens helped celebrate one of the finest music performances that the The Minnesota State Fair, and the entire state of Minnesota for that matter, had ever seen.