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Published: 2005/01/08
by Hugh Scott

Flaming Lips & Wilco, Madison Square Garden, NYC- 12/31

Sit Back & Relax with the Flaming Lips and Wilco

Ringing in the New Year at Madison Square Garden with Wilco and The Flaming Lips lived up to all the potential that the two bands had promised when they conceived the double bill after conversation between The Lips lead singer/emcee/carnival barker Wayne Coyne and Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy first had at the Coachella Music Festival last spring.

Following the opening band Sleater-Kinney's rousing opening set, Wayne and a few of The Flaming Lips entourage hit the stage, armed with the usual assortment of confetti guns and strobe lights and the crowd began to feel what was about to come. The usual Flaming Lips combination of concert, freak show and circus was elevated to a new level on New Year's Eve – complete sensory overload in the best sense of the term. By the time the band kicked into the first song, "Race for the Prize" from their 1999 release The Soft Bulletin, after a brief instrumental introducing the show, hundreds of balloons in various sizes and shapes, confetti, furry animals and gyrating, scantily clad women covered the stage and the crowd. After the song, with the entire crowd energized, on their feet, dancing and smiling, Wayne boasted, "That's the way the start a rock show!"

As the set continued, The Lips proved yet again to be one of the most amusing and exciting bands touring today, playing songs from every era of a career that is now over 15 years old. Dominated with songs from the 2002 critically acclaimed album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots such as "Flight Test", "In the Morning Magicians", Parts one and two of "Yoshimi," the set also delved in the past with songs like "Lighting Strikes the Postman" and the song that was introduced by Wayne as a "college radio hit that we played at the Peach Pit", the always crowd pleasing "She Don’t Use Jelly." Early in the set the band was joined onstage by Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker for a powerful take on Black Sabbath’s "War Pigs". Despite images of the current White House administration mixed with gory pictures of war, it did not disappoint the crowd or dampen the mood in any way. Ending the set with the hit from Yoshimi "Do You Realize", The Lips had promised the best show in the City on this night and they had held up their end of the bargain. All that was left was for Wilco to do the same. And they were up for the challenge.

Jeff Tweedy and Wilco were not intimidated, as many bands must be when they try to follow the mayhem that is a Flaming Lips show. In true rock star style, Tweedy appeared on stage with a guitar strapped over a pair of pajamas and announced that he had "just woken up." Opening strong with two songs from their latest, A Ghost is Born, "Less Than You Think" with a nice feedback segue into strongest live song from the new album, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)". Songs like "Handshake Drugs", "A Shot In the Arm", "Hummingbird" and "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" kept the energy lever high and the anticipation of midnight kept growing. With about five minutes left to go, Wilco began "Jesus, etc." and played a lot distortion and feedback right up to midnight. With ten seconds left in 2004, the screens on the stage went to a live feed of the ball dropping in Times Square they were joined onstage briefly by the other bands and just after midnight, Wilco played "Auld Lang Syne" as the crowd continued to cheer, hug and toast in the New Year.

Everything before Midnight proved to be prelude, as Wilco cranked it up a notch, mixing up the set with originals and a number of choice covers, starting with a appropriate and stellar cover of Judas Priest' "Living After Midnight" just after the calendar turned over, followed by "Love Will Keep Us Together"-introduced by Jeff as a song by Judas & Tennille. The highlight of all the covers, though, was "I Shall Be Released" with Jeff offering a spot-on Richard Manuel, as he sang it with the same sense of forlorn and heartbreak that the deceased member of The Band sang the song Bob Dylan had written for him. The final highlight of the evening was the last song. Forgoing an encore, they played right up until the 1:15 curfew and ended the show with "Comment (If All Men Truly Are Brother)", a song penned by Charles Wright and originally played by his band, The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, from their album "In the Jungle, Babe". A beautiful and powerful soul song that Wilco had prepared specifically for this show, it proved to be the perfect way to end the show. With lyrics of peace and understanding, it provided the perfect emotion to segue into a new year, while tempering the moment as it served as a poignant tribute to the devastation in Asia and elsewhere as well as offering a clear hope better year for everyone in the world.

As the crowd filed out of the Garden, there was not a disappointed face among them. Everyone who attended left the show extremely satisfied, peaceful and excited for a new year.

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