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Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review

Flaming Lips at LouFest. Photo by Khoolod Eid.

Flaming Lips at LouFest. Photo by Khoolod Eid.

Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Dec. 20 2012 at 11:54 AM

Editor’s Note: The end of 2012 is upon us (also the end of the world, if you believe in that sort of thing), so we thought we’d put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!

When I write articles for RFT Music, I’m not just reporting on music happenings — I’m writing about my life. One day my priorities might change, but for now what matters the most to me is music. Maybe that’s wrong or unhealthy or something, but it’s true, and luckily most of my favorite music moments of 2012 have been documented in some way on these pages.

I’m lucky in that I have a lot of freedom in this space. It’s curated not only by people who give a crap, but by people who value what I have to offer. After seven years of writing for this publication, I’m still grateful and excited for the opportunity. I absolutely adore my job here at RFT Music. My life is my work and my work is my life, and I’m honored to share it with you.

That said, here was my life in 2012:

I rang in the New Year in Oklahoma City. My sweet old dog, Ruby, had just passed and I was in the middle of some serious grief. I ran away for the weekend to hang out with old friends and see two shows with the Flaming Lips and my spirit animal, Yoko Ono. At the stroke of midnight, I was tipsy on pink lemonade moonshine, bathed in kisses and standing inside a massive sonic blast fortified by a fog of rainbow confetti, flashing lights, jumping lasers, hundreds of bright balloons and the twinkling reflections off of a giant disco ball. The Lips played Beatles covers with Yoko and Sean Lennon and Nels Cline; it was absolute bliss and served as a strong reminder of the healing power of live music.

Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono - JAIMEVILLE.COM

I’ve been saved again and again by amazing music — most of it local. I’m a huge fan of so many of our local bands. Many people wait years for their favorite bands to tour, but for me, my favorite bands play all the time. As an extra treat, I get the opportunity to write about these St. Louis music makers: Lion’s Daughter, Prince Ea, Jimmy Griffin, Jans Project, Demonlover, Roland Johnson, Fred Friction, Nelly and the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of what I write reads as love letters to St. Louis, but I just can’t help myself — St. Louis just makes it too easy. Stop being so awesome and I’ll stop writing about you. Until then, the locals have my heart. (Extra double shout-out to people that I’m proud to call my friends, the hard-working folks at Big Muddy Records, Tower Groove Records and the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.)

I’m not sure why, but this year I felt particularly productive. I was given space to write about music-minded locals who inspire me creatively (Dana Smith), about St. Louis music history (STL 2000) and I got to hype the touring bands that I was the most excited about (Future of the Left, R. Ring). I’m still not quite over the fact that I actually get paid to get drunk and watch Guided by Voices, to eat pizza and listen to Taylor Swift, to try to convince readers that Heart is badass, to watch classic bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe, to review Madonna from the second row, to jump into the world of Juggalos, to get Sinead O’Connor‘s take on St. Louis (and Chuck Berry) and to praise my personal heroes like Bonnie Raitt and Henry Rollins. If you can find a girl that is luckier than me, I’d sure like to meet her.

Under the advice of my very favorite punk rock couple, I attended a show with a band I’d never heard before: I saw Useless Eaters at CBGB and it was the best damn show I saw all year. These kinds of happy accidents only occur when you actually listen to the suggestions of others, so try keep some cooler-than-you friends around.

And though I was stoked on the lineup this year at our big summer festival, LouFest, I had originally declined to do any LouFest coverage. I wanted a weekend of fun, without having to spend all night writing reviews. But there was a last-minute rescheduling and Kiernan came and found me right before Dinosaur Jr played. He needed someone to write about Dino’s set. I said sure, knowing that it would actually be easy– on some level I’d been prepared to review a Dino show for at least half of my life. Kiernan hunted down an empty beer box for me to write on and then he went back out into the crowd, off on his next mission. I found a pen, ducked under a friend’s umbrella and wrote my notes out on the cardboard. Improvising ain’t just for musicians, you know, and the Dino review turned out to be one of my favorite things that I wrote all year.

The second night of LouFest, I again found myself at the emotional mercy of the Flaming Lips live show, but this time as a participant. I danced onstage with some of my favorite people, and I absolutely rocked that slutty Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume, if I do say so myself. It was one of the best days of my life and it’s far too personal to write about here, but trust me, it was a good time and I felt absolutely smothered in love.

Since then my life and routines have gotten back on schedule, and this fall has been one great event after the last, and with the upcoming holiday season is bringing tons of shows that I’m excited about– I predict that I won’t get much sleep through the end of the year.

As for the future, who knows? I’m excited about the new crop of weirdness on the South Side. Magic City, Black James, Syna So Pro, Demonlover, Bug Chaser and Horsey Drawers have my interest right now, but nobody can predict what insanity will come in 2013. I, for one, can’t wait. Bring on the New Year. I’ll be lurking in the many venues, festivals, dark basements, loud practice spaces and fancy recording studios around town. See you at the barricades.

link: Riverfront Times

Madonna at the Scottrade Center, 11/1/12: Review, Photos and Setlist

photo by Jon Gitchoff, via RFTMusic.com

Madonna at the Scottrade Center, 11/1/12: Review, Photos and Setlist
By Jaime Lees
Fri., Nov. 2 2012 at 8:39 AM

Madonna is considered a living legend, a cultural icon and one of the best performers of her time. She is one of the most influential artists in the history of American music, and last night at the Scottrade Center we found out why: hard work and natural charisma.

If we are to believe any of the personality flaws that we’ve been fed about her character, she needs and wants to be the center of attention at all times. This quality may be the most distinctive trait of a pop star, and Madonna is inarguably the biggest pop star in the world. The death of Michael Jackson left no doubt as to who holds the crown. Major stadium stars like Bruce Springsteen and Prince might be worthy competition, but Madonna is the queen.

This is especially interesting considering that Madonna is a chameleon of both style and culture. There was ’80s punky Madonna. Religious Madonna. Controversial Madonna. BDSM Madonna. New age Madonna. Evita Madonna. Raver Madonna. And on and on. All of these Madonnas are all there and they’re all beloved, but what’s interesting is how she translates and squeezes all of these personas into her stage show. A huge production including a giant stage, huge screens, flashing lights, lasers, scores of backup dancers, video interludes and a band does not distract from or in any way minimize her powerful charisma.

Opening act Paul Oakenfold was a fairly decent selection to warm-up the crowd. He played gently electrified versions of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Otherside” and no less than three Rihanna songs. Basically, it was uninspiring but it worked. It sounded like the ignorable sub par electro played at any club on the weekend.

At this point, Oakenfold is more of an EDM elder than an active, groundbreaking member of the culture, but he still threw in a bit of DJ Darude’s “Sandstorm” for the clubbers in attendance. Like most popular DJs at larger events, he didn’t seem to be doing much of anything up there behind his massive LED console. There was a camera above him the whole time, but, tellingly, the only time it showed his otherwise-hidden hands was at the very end when he slid the volume controls down.

A Madonna concert is more than just music, it’s the live presentation of her art, and her art is her self. There is just no easy way to accurately present all of her many looks, phases and musical explorations into one hour and a half long set.

She tackles this dilemma by breaking up the show into a few different sections, all of which present different moods, attitudes, types of music and, honey, costumes. She is now three decades into an inconceivably huge international music career, and it would be impossible (and exhausting) for her to play all of the songs that her fans would like to hear.

There is a difficulty that needs to be addressed when attempting to compartmentalize such a long, diverse list of options. This problem was solved through referencing other hit songs during the performance. For example, “Hung Up” contained sprinklings of both “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Live to Tell.” And during “Express Yourself,” Miss Madge even took a well-earned swipe at Lady Gaga by seamlessly sliding a few lines of Gaga’s rip-off hit, “Born This Way” into the middle of the song.

Never one to hint at a topic or embrace subtlety, Madonna takes the direct approach in life and in concert. She’s a very literal performer, actually walking a on-stage tightrope to illustrate a tense emotion, grabbing her own lady bits when singing about sex, crawling on the floor to mime distress and doing a convincing acting job in a few storytelling scenarios. (Especially during the performance of “Love Spent,” a stand-out track on her new MDNA album.)

Under Madonna’s lights, everything is fluid. The stage floor morphs into a raised platform, dancers flow into a human staircase and the lady of the night changes both her outfit, hair and mood with ease. She began the evening as some sort of dark-sided Illuminati cult leader before changing into a violent Bond girl, a woman seeking religious guidance, the leader of a marching band, a star of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-following sitar-lover, a cutesy party hostess and then some sort of future disco druid from outer space, with a little dominatrix vibe spiking here and there.

If she has any constant, it’s that she’s always changing. This is true of all of her explorations, but Madonna still has quite a few signature scenes and looks. But because she’s been around for so long, everything about her is familiar. From her distinctive eyebrows to the sharp peaks on her top lip to her well-muscled thighs to her dancing style and mannerisms, we feel like we might already know it all but then she still finds ways to make both the songs and her looks feel fresh. It’s all still very Madonna, but she always mixes up her style. She keeps older songs interesting by performing them in new ways, like when she sang a slowed down, nearly solo macabre version of “Like a Virgin.”

Even with all of this thought and effort and professionalism, a few spots did drag on a bit. “Human Nature” needed more hip-hop sound effects (like on the album version) and “Masterpiece” was by far the lowest energy point of the night. Still, any tiny missteps were more than made up for by the time the show ended. “Like a Prayer” alone was worth any exorbitant ticket price. All of her dancers were out on the stage on a riser-like structure, dressed in robes and swaying and clapping like a gospel choir, with Lady Madonna as the preacher. Can I get an amen?

Critic’s Notebook:

CROWD: There seemed to be a bunch of older ladies having sort-of Moms’ Night Out. There were also craptons of ladies dressed as various Madonna eras, with 80s crinoline skirts proving especially popular. Lots and lots of left-over Halloween costumes.

FAMILY: Madonna’s son, Rocco, acted as a junior backup dancer, joining her on stage for a few songs and even busting out his own break-dance solo.

PROBLEM: During “I’m a Sinner,” both Madonna’s ear piece and microphone were giving her issues. She stopped the song and waited for replacements before starting the song over, but not before asking forgiveness from the audience and evoking sympathy from those in attendance when she playfully grumbled, “This is my worst nightmare.”

HOTNESS: Taking into consideration the fact that Madonna is a woman who has partially built her career on her body and her sexuality, I don’t think it’s out of line to mention that she looked amazing. She’s prettier and somehow more charming in the flesh, and her tight, midriff-bearing costumes left no doubt that her body is still bangin’. Yowza. But it’s insane to watch her and realize that she is a real person. She is so small when you see her in person, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that this one tiny person has been so influential.

DIVA: When Madonna spied a few small partial sections of fans sitting in their seats during her show, she called them out. She wanted everybody to get up and dance and nicely (but firmly) shamed them until they complied. (“You are not allowed to sit in the motherfucking chair.”)

SETLIST:

Girl Gone Wild
Revolver
Gang Bang
Papa Don’t Preach
Hung Up
I Don’t Give A
Express Yourself
Give Me All Your Luvin’
Turning Up the Hits
Turn Up the Radio
Open Your Heart
Masterpiece
Vogue
Candy Shop
Human Nature
Like a Virgin
Love Spent
I’m Addicted
I’m a Sinner
Like a Prayer
Celebration

link: Riverfront Times

St. Louis is Still in Super Bowl XLVI, Even Though the Rams Suck

St. Louis is Still in Super Bowl XLVI, Even Though the Rams Suck
By Jaime Lees
Fri., Feb. 3 2012 at 10:31 AM

​The Rams may not be taking the field on Sunday at Super Bowl XLVI, but someone from St. Louis will be: Nick Smarrelli, chief operating officer at St. Louis IT firm GadellNet Consulting Services. He’ll be helping to escort Madonna on the field for her halftime show, as reported yesterday in an article in the St. Louis Business Journal.

With exactly one minute of Facebook stalking we learned a bunch about Smarrelli. He was married a few years ago, he does a bunch of traveling (Tibet, Australia, Jamaica, Lake Tahoe) and he has cute dog named Cooper. He seems swell and he has a very nice smile. We’re glad we have a man on the inside and we want all of the juicy details when he comes home. (Was Madonna a bitch? Yes? In the good way or in the bad way? And seriously, how was her face without HD-ready makeup?)

For those of us who know not one darn thing about football, halftime is the best time. It’s our chance to get excited about what’s on the big screen. But the Super Bowl executives have an unreliable history when choosing the entertainment. It seems to be a crapshoot, really.

I thought that Prince would be the peak of halftime performances, but he was followed with a rad Tom Petty show. And after Petty came that panty-dropping performance from Bruce Springsteen. Damn. But then after Springsteen was a just-okay performance from the Who. And then the worst came last year we were forced to endure that total barf-fest from the Black Eyed Peas. (*Shudder*)

But even if Madonna’s controversial appearance blows or Smarrelli breaks a leg (literally) we will still have Dan Connolly to represent us. Connolly is a native St. Louisan, a full-time awesome dude and a player for the Patriots. Connolly set some kind of fancy football record last season, and this year he’s a starting lineman for New England. And before you ask that all-important STL question, we will tell you that Connolly went to Marquette High School. Way to rep that Marquette Mustang, Dan.

Who else from St. Louis is going to be a part of the Super Bowl?