I don’t know if it was the sizable strong ales I sampled at Steamworks Brewery in Durango or the sublime fog gathering in the valley, but I could already feel the Brews & Blues Festival building toward a magical, psychedelic climax.
An older crowd was milling about, listening to the warm, percussive jam of Zappa Plays Zappa and mulling over the weather: a tent? A jacket? Lawn chairs? Or perhaps a Hot Toddy at the New Sheridan Historic Bar? As many people were going back into town as were coming in for the show.
I was 100 percent ready to see The Flaming Lips for the first time. For six hours in the car on the way to Telluride I’d savored The Soft Bulletin, Clouds Taste Metallic and Zaireeka.
The sky grew darker and purple clouds formed over the indigo peaks. I settled in for the brisk evening with an Odell’s Myrcenary Double IPA. At this eco-friendly festival, beer lovers purchased a reusable pint glass and brought them back again (and again, and again) for refills. There was an excellent selection of delicious beer: Odell, Great Divide and Ska all brought their heavily hopped Colorado goodness, a perfect way to take the chill off a misty night on the mountain.
Lips frontman Wayne Coyne appeared at sound check. He chatted up the audience and warned those in the front rows—he would be crowd surfing in a giant inflatable bubble, and there might be things thrown off the stage. Once the music began people warmed up a little more, perhaps not as much as the band would have liked. When it busted out alt.rock radio hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” the crowd had a collective “Aha!” moment and was hungry for more. Giant colored balloons floated in the air and for a moment, in this valley, on this night, I contemplated that these guys on stage might be the Led Zeppelin of our generation.
A giant disco ball rotated slowly on the stage-sized screen in the background. Coyne babbled on about “joy being the greatest human comfort.” I sort of rolled my eyes. His outsized ego was on display, and just as I was getting annoyed with his hippie blather, the robot noises began, slowly and quietly. Then some anime-looking school girls filed onto the stage. I pressed further toward the front, and those first acoustic chords were met with the loudest reaction I’d heard all night. Warm with double IPA and joy for my favorite song, I belted out the lyrics to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”
The rainbow, the lasers, the JumboTron disco ball and confetti shower all came together in a moment of total live-show bliss—the kind that makes you remember why you endure the lines and the crowds and the smelly porta-potties. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the band turned it up to 11 with a Pink Floyd “Brain Damage / Eclipse” cover. They’d won over every skeptic in the place.
With such a large catalog, and with Yoshimi and Pink Floyd in the can, where would The Flaming Lips possibly take us next? Again, I was reminded of my Zeppelin hypothesis as the audience was led through one last song—a sing-along version of “Do You Realize?” Moms, dads and little kids were singing along with the hipsters, oldsters and cynics.