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The Flaming Lips at The Ryman, Social Distortion and Chuck Ragan at The Ryman

The Spin


Flame on

We're not sure if we've ever left a concert beaming and buzzing with so much post-show euphoria — nor have we left a concert covered in primary-colored streamers and confetti shading our hair like psychedelic dandruff. Making their Ryman debut, The Flaming Lips effortlessly overwhelmed the famed theater with a vivid spectacle that was as cathartic and uplifting as it was visually astounding. The Mother Church has never felt so intimate. Not only that, but Wayne Coyne & Co. totally trashed the place, which was covered in birthday-party-riffic debris within minutes.

Following a moody, psyched-out, pretty-good-but-not-particularly-memorable opening set by the Sean Lennon-co-fronted Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Lips singer Coyne was already onstage, overseeing their crew as they prepped the palace of country for Zaireeka. With house lights still up, Coyne briefly took to the mic and addressed the crowd, offering a PSA to any epileptics in the house regarding the blinding strobe lights, and pleading that no one sit down when he made his signature stage entrance in his "space bubble."

Soon enough, the auditorium went dark only to be drastically re-illuminated by a semi-circle LED screen that, barely even fitting behind the stage, band members Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Kliph Scurlock and newcomer Derek Brown emerged from within, while Coyne's clear bubble was inflated with him inside. A short moment later and we were holding the 50-year-old singer up on our palms in a moment of mutual triumph. Party cannons charged with confetti exploded in the background, raining down into our beers as balloons bounced off our heads and into the rafters, and the band jammed out on some kraut-rock.

The Lips front-loaded their set with a pair of songs — "Worm Mountain" and "Silver Trembling Hands" — from 2009's psychedelic brain-bender Embryonic, the latter of which Coyne sang on the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. Once we'd acclimated to the spectacle, The Lips upped the ante and exploded into their single hit "She Don't Use Jelly," raising the arms and shaking the hips of the onstage party dancers, who, in keeping with the night's Wizard of Oz theme, were decked out like Dorothys and Cowardly Lions.

"Thank you guys for standing up and being freaks," Coyne said with sincerity following the impassioned crowd participation that accompanied "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." The band then tried out their recent one-off single "Is David Bowie Dying?" which — if memory serves — featured Drozd on iPhone. No joke. We noted this detail on our iPhone.

Other highlights included a mesmerizing "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" — complete with Teletubby footage onscreen — the band having their Bon Jovi moment with Coyne milking a deafening sing-along for all its worth during "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," and a laser- laden, transfixing rendition of "The Observer" that led into a transcendent, passionate "What Is the Light?" — an epic one-two punch of Soft Bulletin-ness.

We wormed our way to the front as the band treated us to a double encore of their two signature anthems: "Race for the Prize" and "Do You Realize?" As the latter made our eyes well up (for real), we were thrilled at the realization that we may very well have seen the greatest show we'll ever see, and saddened to, you know, realize that it couldn't last forever — truly bringing the song's sentiments to life in the moment. The Lips are perhaps unmatched in their ability to, at least for a couple hours, create the world of wonder their music can only make you imagine on recording. Their show is, to put it simply, perfect.

Social implications

Since we'd been told that Friday was potentially The Spin's last night on Earth, we figured what better place to spend it than, once again, in the Mother Church? The Spin opted to bike, because, let's face it: Parking your car downtown is still a bitch. Well, turns out parking your bike is no picnic either. Not only isn't The Ryman equipped with a bike rack, but their security also insisted our two-wheeler be kept off the grounds entirely.

Transportation snags aside, we weren't quite expecting the bulk and diversity of this crowd at all. Aside from your predictably tattooed, chain-walleted punkabilly dudes and ladies, we certainly weren't anticipating the number of mom/dad/son/daughter combos that made this thing the most family-friendly punk show we've seen pretty much ever.

Opener and former Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan met the requisite conventions for converting from emo-charged punker to indie-folk troubador: Acoustic guitar, a throaty, macho growl and songs about mama, America and the woes of the working man were all predictably in tow. While repeating the same I-IV-V chord progression and waltzy, sea-shanty cadence on nearly every song did little to divert our expectations, Ragan immediately scored at least a few Nashville cool points when we noticed he'd employed Glossary's Todd Beene on pedal steel.

We definitely weren't anticipating seasoned punker Mike Ness and his latest incarnation of the Social Distortion lineup to take the stage to the tune of 2Pac and Dr. Dre's "California Love" just before launching into 1990's "So Far Away." Ness has been name-checking country greats as influences throughout the band's history, so we (again) weren't surprised when he bantered at length about the honor of being there. But hey, it is kind of a big deal. The band carried on with a career-spanning block of hits that Ness himself described as "Buck Owens meets The Ramones, don't you think?" Faves like "Ball and Chain" (greatly influenced by "the music of this region"), "Bad Luck" and "Mommy's Little Monster" caused just as much ruckus with this batch as tracks off their newest, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.

Again, somehow we knew a Hank Williams cover was coming. It was "Six More Miles," the one from Ness' 1999 covers record, Cheating at Solitaire. After a particularly honky-tonky rendition of 1988's "Prison Bound," The Ryman's familiar wooden-floor stomp brought the band, and a couple backup singers, out for a few more. And again, we knew it was coming. Surely they wouldn't leave Nashville without playing the cover of "Ring of Fire" they featured on their 1990 major-label debut. Nope, they wouldn't, and this crowd couldn't let them play it in Nashville without stomping throughout its extended duration. If it had been their last night in this realm, it was a damn good one for these folks, who got exactly what they paid for and openly gushed about it all the way out the door.

We're still bummed about missing Paul Simon. How was it? Let us know. Email

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