Zaireeka Listening Party feat. Hott MT and Butcher Boy
Better than… admitting you don't really understand
Way back in 1997, the Flaming Lips were just weirdos in a big sea of wannabe weirdos. Sure, they'd released a heavily-rotated off-kilter pop song “She Don't Use Jelly,” but they were already veterans at that point and were never as success-driven as other emergent “alternative rock” bands at the time.
Instead of blowing that cash and good will on mindless indulgence, they made Zaireeka, a truly sonic mindfuck and a marked shift in funloving musical intelligence. You see, it's four CDs, and they all have to be listened to at the same time. And so, last night at the Echo, about 50 people stood around and did exactly that.
The event's organizer Krissy Barker was decked in a yellow raincoat — a la what Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne wore at his first listening party. She had done her homework, see. Turns out it was Barker's sixth Zaireeka listening party — but her first in LA.
“Wayne Coyne is my hero,” she noted. “[The Echo] brought up extra speakers from downstairs, so now we've got each CD on a wall and each mix on a speaker. We've basically got octophonic sound.”
Actually, there was live music first. Portland, Maine's Butcher Boy opened to about fifteen people at 9:15. They sounded like a Cap'n Jazz record on the wrong speed in a good way at some points, and then like Jeff Mangum's brilliant younger Appalachian cousins on the rest. It's fair to say they made an impression. If they're comfortable being called post-folk-punk jacked up on acid-laced corn liquor, we're happy to oblige them.
Ashleigh Allard, the lead singer of Hott MT, then emerged from a cocoon of sorts and cycled freaky pop tunes with an absurd tinge. Coyne would be proud. In fact, the band collaborated with him last summer after surprising him at his house for his birthday, even playing a top notch cover of the Lips' “What is the Light.”
But jeez, let's get this thing started. At about 11:08, there was already a dude sitting square in the middle of the Echo floor — ready to vibe the fuck out. For the next 20 minutes, Origami vinyl guru Emily Twombly slung some really bizarre acetate. She and her cohorts even slowed down “Cruella Deville” to the point of weirdo enjoy-ability.
At 11:28 things got underway. True to Zaireeka form, the sync was off. “Aaaand it's already out of sync,” bitterly complained some pedantic asshole. The whole process requires that the each CD be synced perfectly, but that's nearly impossible and having sync gaps is part of the charm.
But, as projectors flashed Dr. Seuss's The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T on one wall and Coyne's own film Christmas on Mars on another and the second track started, the sync was damn-near perfect.
People were packed together in the middle of the Echo floor like huddling happy-feet penguins. Others were pacing around the fringe looking for a new aural sweet spot. The pacers looked like meditating monks, heads hung low and moving slowly.
Truth is — Barker was doing a superb syncing job. In fact, when track four, “A Machine in India” came up, the song's horns seem to sync with the Seuss movie's marching band.
Song six, “How Will We Know” was preceded by Barker yelling, “This song is dangerous!” She's right, and those attendees aware of the spine-melting high-pitched tone moved into some sonic safe places. Everyone else plugged their ears. In fact, tracks six and seven are basically alarm clocks to remind you to stay engaged with the album. Zaireeka is not really a vibe-out experience, it's an active puzzle, a sound-based 3-D moving platform game.
By the eighth and final track, “The Big Ol' Bug Is the New Baby Now” had everyone standing. Arms went up for the final choruses and then dogs started barking. Woah. The end.
All told, the album is best experienced exactly like it was last night: with a bunch of earnest fans, outstanding sound techs and an enthusiastic Z-jay. A life-affirming Wayne Coyne wouldn't have wanted it any other way, unless he was doing it himself while tripping balls on Venus.
Personal bias: The first Zaireeka listening party I went to in 1999 was followed by necking and heavy petting. It's hard to top that.
The crowd: Serious sonic freaks and audio geeks and self-medicated psychonauts.
Random notebook dump: “Oh man, that dude is just vibed the fuck out. If that dude was an ice cream flavor, he'd be Pralines and Vibe. If he were a president he'd be Viberaham Lincoln. NB: don't put this in the piece, it's not funny.”