by Joe Payne
Lights, confetti and balloons float through the night sky. Buzzing guitars and crashing cymbals resonate throughout the mud-soaked basin. Wayne Coyne, front man of The Flaming Lips, walks in a plastic bubble above a sea of people.
On the weekend of June 5 and 6, Houstonians braved intense heat and torrential rain to attend Free Press Summerfest 2010 in Eleanor Tinsley Park along Buffalo Bayou on Allen Parkway. Attendees witnessed an incredible show, featuring some of the best local and national bands.
Headlining the festival were Girl Talk, a DJ known for mashing up songs into one massive mix, and The Flaming Lips, one of the most influential alternative bands in the last decade and known for putting on some of the most memorable live shows in the country.
The second-annual Summerfest offered extensive diversity in all music tastes, from death metal to hip-hop. Third Ward gangstas and frat bros flocked to the main stage to see juggernaut rappers and Houston residents Slim Thug and Bun B, as tatted-up goths moshed to the Virginian metal band, Municipal Waste.
Other national acts included the revered Mix Master Mike, Ra Ra Riot, Lymbyc Systym, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Lucero.
The wide range of unpredictable music styles reflected the equally unpredictable weather patterns that plague Houston. Saturday’s forecast was relentless heat with few clouds to offer cover from the beating sun.
But Sunday was another story, with heavy rain smothering the festival grounds during mid-afternoon. Although the rain ceased after a few hours, it canceled one of the most anticipated acts of the concert: Dead Prez, a hip-hop duo from New York with a loyal fan base.
Several students were in attendance, including senior Alexis Kapetanakis.
“My favorite moment was the lead singer of The Flaming Lips running around all over the crowd in a giant inflatable ball,” Kapetanakis said. “That was epic. The rain was worth it.”
As expected, the headliners were the highlights of the festival.
Saturday night ended with an explosive set by Girl Talk. Gregg Michael Gillis, aka Girl Talk, took hold of his modest DJ setup and launched into an glorious set of mashups and remixes that lasted nearly an hour and a half. Gillis’s energy was unrelenting; the concert seemed like more of a party than a live show.
Accompanying his music was a spectacular light show with confetti, balloons and toilet paper rolls attached to the end of lawn blowers. The high-energy set winded down slowly, finally concluding with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
It was hard to believe that there was going to be yet another incredible set the next night.
Sunday night hosted The Flaming Lips, the critically-acclaimed and fan-worshiped rock band from Oklahoma City. It is hard to attach a genre label to The Flaming Lips; their music is intricate and multi-layered, arranged in psychedelic rock symphonies.
Just as it is hard to describe their music, it is also hard to describe their performances. The Flaming Lips are renowned for elaborate live shows, featuring mind-blowing stage lights, massive amounts of confetti and balloons, psychedelic video projections and, most notably, front man Wayne Coyne’s signature life-size plastic
bubble that he fits inside of to walk amongst the crowd.
All of these elements were present in their set at Summerfest. Wayne Coyne ventured forth in his bubble onto a sea of fans as the band opened with their eight-minute opener, “The Fear.”
Never was there a single dull moment in the set. Each song had its own mood, from poppy, energetic “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2,” to the heavy, hypnotic “Worm Mountain,” to a colossal rendition of their biggest hit and rock ballad, “Do You Realize??.”
The two hour set felt more like an event than just a gig at a festival.
The Flaming Lips had not been to Houston for 10 years before Summerfest, and it felt as though it was a privilege to see the almost 30-year-old band live. Undoubtedly, The Flaming Lips will be talked about like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are talked about today; just one of those bands you must see live before you die.
Free Press Summerfest is just the thing that Houston needed. All too much, Houston is considered the “armpit of America” by snobby Austinites and beyond. But Houston culture is secretly thriving with a distinctive music scene and an array of diverse artists.
Summerfest is young, and although it cannot be compared to festivals like Austin City Limits, it will surely become a Houston tradition that will put the local music scene on the national level.