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Unlimited Sunshine 2002: The Flaming Lips and Cake

By: Will HermesUnlimited Sunshine 2002
Prospect Park
August 25, 2002

Midway through a confetti-spewing set, the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne mused with an acidhead grin: “Us, De La Soul,Kinky, Modest Mouse, Cake–that’s kinda fucked-up, don’t you think?” Nah, not really. By any decent-college-radio standards, themusically diverse Unlimited Sunshine lineup wasn’t weird at all. What was radical, though, was how damn joyous the bands were. Neverconfusing the serious with the morose or the playful with the moronic, they offered a five-and-a-half-hour seminar on the subversivepower of positive thinking.

Mexican techno-rockers Kinky had trouble moving booties in their afternoon opening slot, but frontman Gilberto Cerezo did acredible jumping-bean impression while his hermanos drove salsa, samba, house, and electro riffs into a giddy pileup. Culture-moshingcontinued between acts via kitchen-sink mixes (opera, Afrobeat, Led Zep) and mini sets by slacker crackers the Hackensaw Boys, an eight-pieceband seizing its post-O Brother moment with bluegrassy songs about cannonballs and moonshine. By comparison, Modest Mouse’s IsaacBrock could’ve been a party pooper. But his passive-aggressive guitar displays were mood elevators, and on the romantically self-loathing”3rd Planet,” he chanted, “The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth” over bell-toned arpeggios, while Coyne–alt-rock’s Obi-WanKenobi of hearts adrift in space–nodded sagely in the wings.

Happy to preach their Serge Gainsbourg-sampling gospel in any setting, De La Soul ambled onstage like they’d just come from abarbecue across the park (though Maseo, stuck in traffic, didn’t show up until halfway through the set). They freestyled off theirold hits and brought out Black Sheep’s Dres for his early-’90s bangers “The Choice Is Yours” and “Flavor of the Month.” Sadly, nerdboys and the girls who love them do not a lively hip-hop crowd make. After his calls for shouts of “Ho” went largely unheeded, Posdnuosobserved: “Fellas, you lame as shit tonight.”

No participation was needed for the Lips, who cavorted with dancers in animal suits amid huge mirror balls and dry-ice fumes in whatresembled a high school production of Cats–except, of course, for the video loops of topless dancers, atomic-bomb blasts, andJapanese schoolgirls machine-gunning one another. Yet, somehow, it all projected a childlike spirit of wonder. When a fake-blood-soakedCoyne triumphantly sang, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” during the dosed-candy chorus of “The Spark That Bled,” the crowd pumped fists as if tosay that anything–be it horrible or absurd–is worthy of affirmation if approached with the right attitude.

Even, for instance, Cake–the selfless tour organizers whose wiry Mexi-Cali funk couldn’t help but seem an afterthought in thewake of Wayne’s wonder world. But with collective endorphins flowing, evangelical frontman John McCrea (looking like a grizzledextra from Smokey and the Bandit) soon had the crowd singing under the starry sky. And Cake’s finale of Gloria Gaynor’s discoanthem “I Will Survive”–sounding tonight like a Lollapalooza elder’s rallying cry–summed up the day’s can-do DIY vibe.Optimism: the new nihilism?