Saturday, August 11, 2012

StePhest Colbchella '012 Throws Fans for a Loop(apalooza)

After frantically refreshing the Colbert Nation website for two weeks, I successfully got a ticket to StePhest Colbchella '012: Rocktaugustfest.  The sequel to last year's concert, which featured acts like Talib Kweli and Bon Iver, StePhest '012 included Grizzly Bear, Santigold, Fun, and the Flaming Lips, all aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid.

The forecast called for thunderstorms, so I bagged my valuables and crossed my fingers that we wouldn't have a rerun of last week's Lollapalooza evacuation.  The sun shone brightly as I ran up 12th Ave from 34th St, fearing a massive line.  After checking in and receiving tickets to be exchanged for beer and food, I took advantage of a free scoop of
Stephen Colbert's very own Ben & Jerry's flavor, Americone Dream.  My friend Carrie (who took all the photos) joined me as we made our way up more than a few sets of stairs to the flight deck of the ship.  The stage was set up on the starboard side, flanked by screens and underneath a set of flashing lights reading, "COLBERT."  We used our drink tickets to grab some Heinekens (Guy behind us: "Which has more alcohol: Budweiser or Heineken?"  Trick question.  They both don't have any.), and settled in for the show.

With the stage manager directing us to cheer, the opening graphics for The Colbert Report illuminated the screens, and out came a swashbuckling Steve spinning a captain's wheel and brandishing a sabre.  Following some quips about the sewage spill in Tarrytown, Colbert played a game of life-size Battleship with Jon Stewart, putting a gigantic red peg into the stage.  He then instructed the crowd to keep the energy level up because they had to tape the opens for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Billed as a festival, this came as a surprise to most of us.  I don't get cable, so perhaps if I had seen last year's week of shows, I would have expected a show-taping environment instead of spending the past week reacquainting myself with the entirety of the Flaming Lips' catalog to be prepared to see them for the first time.
Colbert returned thrice more, putting a different spin on his pitches for sponsor, Pepsi.  First identifying their slogan as "Put it in your mouth," he later inserted a comma into their actual slogan: "Live, for now.  Because we're all going to die someday."  He also introduced his first mate, Grandmaster Flash, although their awkward repartee suggested that the two had never met before.  Colbert closed his final intro with an impromptu duet of "The Star Spangled Banner" with the stage manager.
Fun took the stage shortly after 9:30, and burst right out with current hit "Some Nights."  The sound sliced right through the humid, body odor-laden air, and the crowd sang along happily.  "Carry On" followed (Next single, maybe?) and "We Are Young" was the obvious closer.  A short set, but this wasn't a festival; it's TV.

Grizzly Bear hadn't played a concert in two years, but they assembled onstage to support Shields, which drops on September 18th.  They started things off with the heavy-on-harmonies "Two Weeks" off their album Veckatimest.  While not exactly a rager, the song didn't get the reaction from the crowd that the producers of the show had wanted.  It was time for a do-over.  Speaking as someone who works in television, this is a fairly common occurrence.  But to the mass of people who came to see a concert, it was a letdown.  After being part of a crowd on a TV show, you learn how to move your hands more, how to exaggerate your side-to-side movements, how to imitate a bobblehead.  But some folks didn't want to deal with multiple takes, and began making their way back to shore.  The live debut of "Yet Again" had to be rebooted after some technical difficulties with frontman Ed Droste's equipment, and there was even more resistance from the crowd.  Colbert came out to make amends, offering, "As an impartial observer, allow me to say that the second time you play a song, it's even better."  Once GB got that song in the can, they finished it out with another new one, "Sleeping Ute."

Grandmaster Flash provided the music between sets, but sadly spent most of his time spinning current radio hits. One break featured "Hip Hop Hooray," "Jump Around," and "Let Me Clear My Throat," recalling elementary school dances at the Sunset Room, but shockingly Flash's own classic cuts like "White Lines (Don't Do It)" and "The Message" remained absent.

When Stephen announced that he was going to take some time to record the goodnight tags, groans issued from the crowd.  That is, until he descended into our ranks, only to be hoisted above by eager concertgoers, to deliver his lines into the jib camera.  With those fans expecting a typical concert rapidly departing, Colbert nobly turned to the role of pacifier.  He did everything he could to keep us entertained, from singing "Happy Birthday" in Latin to a crowdmember to joyously dancing to Rihanna's "We Found Love, a snippet of which can be seen below.

Santigold surprised me, as I had written her off as a M.I.A. clone (and I don't like M.I.A.).  Her stone-faced backup singers, doing choreographed routines with a variety of props including briefcases and umbrellas, had me laughing out loud.  And the dub-like sounds of "Disparate Youth" had me legitimately dancing, not just hamming it up for the cameras.  But alas, the perfection necessary for TV struck again.  After guitar and monitor issues required both "The Keepers" and "Disparate Youth" to be repeated, I remarked to the Santigold fan next to me that she could've gone to the bathroom as she had wanted to, and not missed a thing.

The show now running late, the sense of urgency was apparent, with Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd tuning their own instruments.  Wayne Coyne took the reins on pumping up the crowd, and the Lips launched into "Ashes in the Air."  A bizarre marijuana PSA from Coyne flowed into "Drug Chart," which had him shaking a maraca with a face, and obscuring his own visage with a foil cape.  As they broke into "Do You Realize??," I realized how strange it was to see the Lips in the year they became world record holders for the most concerts performed in 24 hours, likely playing to their smallest crowd since 1994.

No Flaming Lips show is complete without Wayne jumping into a space bubble and hamster-wheeling his way above the crowd.  Wayne and Colbert climbed into their spheres and set out onto our bed of hands, so Stephen could deliver his final goodbye.  It was a little surreal to know that as they passed above us in their space bubbles, while the Lips played the theme to The Colbert Report, just to our left, in an even bigger bubble, was the space shuttle Enterprise.
I guess we'll see next week how it all comes together on TV.  Well, those of us with cable.

FUN – 08.10.12 – STEPHEST COLBCHELLA ‘012, USS INTREPID (14 minutes)

Some Nights / Carry On / We Are Young


Two Weeks / Two Weeks / Yet Again (aborted) / Yet Again / Sleeping Ute


The Keepers / Disparate Youth / The Keepers / Disparate Youth / Go!


Ashes in the Air / Drug Chart / Do You Realize?? / Charge (tease) / The Colbert Report Theme


  1. Second Flaming Lips song was "Drug Chart", not NASA on Acid.

  2. Thanks, I never got the Gummy Skull EP because it was so expensive.

  3. You can see the shows on Hulu if you're wanting to