September 7, 2006

You Are Now Entering a No-Dance Zone

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It was to be a marriage of funnel cake and rock’n roll, tilt-a-whirls and drug-enhanced light shows, “fun for the whole family” and girls flashing their breasts at lead guitarists. It was to be something unholy, something not sanctioned by any Christian, Jewish, or Muslim God, which made the prospect of going even more enticing. Yes, on the first of September – capping off a day filled with soap-making demos, ventriloquist acts, and the much-anticipated “Open Swine Show” – Sonic Youth, Ween and the Flaming Lips were scheduled to rock the New York State Fair at five o’clock sharp.
Finding the Mohegan Sun Grandstand within the fairgrounds was surprisingly easy; my boyfriend and I simply followed the kids who looked, well, like us (tight Diesels, confused facial expression, fascination with – and subsequent consumption of – greasy, delicious fair food). Yet as we rushed into the stadium, having finally discovered the Grandstand nestled between the giraffe tent, the candied apple stand and the pony rides, my heart fell at the sight before me – little metal chairs, as far as the eye could see. They had even been placed in the orchestra and pit sections, those traditionally free-for-all, dance-happy havens, so that we might admire each act’s musical prowess in comfort, hands clasped neatly in our laps.
However, this was merely a predecessor to the truly major blow: seating was enforced. Placed strategically along the bleachers and chairs of each level were dozens of security guards, walkie-talkies at the ready and a big “May I Help You?” pin glaring mockingly from their chests. Whenever a group of hipsters found the courage to stand up, move forward and dance (and frankly, who could pass up the opportunity to dance to “Teenage Riot”?), two or three guards would descend upon them, barking rules and regulations as they escorted the kids back into the cramped bleachers. By the end of Sonic Youth’s set the crowd was full of nervous energy, asses straining against our seats as we jealously watched Kim Gordon fling herself around the stage like a ballerina on acid. Ah, to be free! Somehow, the Flaming Lips managed to do just that – set us free, breaking the chains of our immobility through the sheer live freak show that has for years garnered them notoriety as performers. They walked onto the stage to the roar of the crowd, surrounded by a multitude of fans dressed like Santa Clauses and extra terrestrials who undulated beside the band for the duration of the show. Each song was accompanied by confetti guns, blinding lights, dozens of giant blue balloons, and bizarre, colorful videos shown on a giant screen behind the band. In my opinion, it was the last of these – specifically the projection of a svelte, naked Japanese girl shaking her chest and doing karate kicks in sync with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, pt. 2” – that short-circuited State Fair security, incapacitating them long enough for the audience to lose it. Everyone in the stadium, whether in the bleachers or down on the ground, was on their feet and dancing; many even managed to invade the pit, which had been roped off as a V.I.P. section. Kids who had once been confined to the farthest recesses of the bleachers began to appear up on stage, just a few feet away from the Lips. Hell, even Dan and I, who had familiarized ourselves with nearly every security guard in our earlier efforts to move closer to the stage, were able to sneak into the front bleachers.
Such an experience has a number of lessons to teach us. First, being able to go on a ferris wheel after seeing a rock show is simply ethereal. Secondly, Ween sucks, which is why I didn’t talk about them at all. But most importantly, the vast majority of live shows are meant to be danced at, especially when the headliner is a band whose mantra is essentially focused on freaking out. Indeed, holding hand puppets of nuns and birds up to the microphone, front man Wayne Coyne used his set breaks to urge the audience to do all those things that one was meant to do at a rock show: smoke outrageous amounts of pot, yell obscenities at The Man, smother the strangers next to you in a sweaty embrace, and, most importantly, move.