The Flaming Lips @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Normally at a gig you would expect to see glitter confetti and giant inflatable aliens in some exquisite grand finale at the end of a set (you wouldn’t “NORMALLY” expect to see it at a gig at all, but you know what I mean) – but this was how The Flaming Lips opened their set at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Monday night.  Not only that, but they opened with The Abandoned Hospital Ship – a song they hadn’t played live since they first played this venue some 18 years ago.

The Flaming Lips aren’t like any other ordinary band, though, and their brand of euphoric, psychedelic rock is complimented beautifully by the multi-coloured explosion of lights, the glitter showers and the dancing inflatable cartoon characters that regularly roam the stage.

With his skin-tight crimson bodysuit and tinsel overcoat Wayne Collins is like a mad scientist directing a series of chaotic experiments in the laboratory of a stage.  From the anthemic Do You Realize?? and the irrepressible sing-along of Yoshmi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1 to the dystopian garage rock of Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast – performed by Collins standing atop a fairy light strewn platform whilst cradling a baby doll – this was an exhilarating set with as many moments of musical brilliance as there were theatrical wonder.

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Stag & Dagger 2014, Bank Holiday Sunday, Glasgow

Now in its sixth year, Stag & Dagger boasted its biggest line yet with 50 acts spread across eight venues along Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.  With tickets available to be exchanged for wristbands from 1pm and the first band on stage at two o’clock, a long day of drinking and music lay ahead.

That first act to take the stage at Broadcast was Dundee’s jangly pop four-piece Model Aeroplanes, whose fun sound provided an enjoyable opening to the festival.  I don’t remember a whole lot about Kieran Leonard’s set at Coda Hairdressers, apart from the overwhelming feeling of am I actually seeing a gig inside an honest to God hairdressers?

I left Coda to head back across to Broadcast for the much anticipated Public Access TV, who are the next band to be hyped as the ‘next big thing from New York City’.  There seemed to be a bit of an internet hype around these guys earlier in the year, and they certainly have a good sound – almost Elvis Costello-like in places – and catchy hooks.  But the lead singer’s voice bothered me.  Not enough to ruin my enjoyment of their set, and I’m not entirely sure what it was about it that I didn’t like.  Unfortunately my decision to take in their set meant that by the time I got back across the street to Coda for a double header of Honeyblood and Johnny Flynn the venue was at capacity.

That left me with an hour to kill at the tightly-packed Broadcast.  Their downstairs venue was also full for 5pm act The Beaches (who I was originally intending on seeing before I learned that Johnny Flynn was the special guest at Coda).  So I sat at the bar until The Districts, one of the acts I most wanted to see through the day, and they didn’t disappoint.  The Philadelphia four-piece have an exceptional sound which swings comfortably from delicate acoustic to blues-rock.  The lead singer has a voice which bubbles with character and at times holds all the acheing of a bruised heart.  To an extent he evoked thoughts of Deer Tick’s John McCauley. Long Distance and Funeral Beds were the stand-outs of one of my favourite sets of the day, if not my favourite.  It’s just a pity Broadcast is such an overcrowded box of heat, because the sound is always spot on in my experience.

Then it was off to the ABC for The Hold Steady, who were more or less the reason I’d bought a ticket for the festival.  They were excellent as always, and I would estimate that they drew the biggest crowd of the day.  Craig Finn’s mannerisms still crack me up, in the best of ways, although I felt that their sound was sorely missing Franz Nicolay.  Sequestered in Memphis and Magazines, for example, just aren’t the same without his piano.  However, The Hold Steady embody the spirit of rock n’ roll and they put on the best rock show you’ll get from a bar band, with this set capturing a fine balance between old songs like Your Little Hoodrat Friend and the quartet from Boys and Girls in America and new songs from current album Teeth Dreams.  An hour didn’t do them justice, but that’s the nature of these things.  Hopefully they’ll be back on tour later in the year.

Over at the CCA, Ezra Furman put on a superb set which crackled with humour, catchy songs and clever lyrics.  “This next one is a love song.  A twisted love song.  It’s called Blood Sucking Whore.”  His band The Boyfriends were tight and gifted and were a musical delight.

Los Campesinos! were bright and vibrant at ABC1, while Royal Blood had the ABC2 rocking with a thumping sound which I’m pretty sure is still reverberating in my bones.  Their riffs are ferocious and have a soaring intensity which is bound to be heard more in the coming months and years.

Unfortunately Albert Hammond, Jr was something of a letdown in the headline slot at ABC1.  That’s not to say that he isn’t as cool as he was when he burst onto the scene with the Strokes 13 years ago (he definitely is) or that there was anything musically flawed about this performance (there wasn’t), it was just incredibly boring.  It might have been the long day – this was into hour 10 of music and drinking – I don’t know, but virtually no-one in the increasingly emptying venue seemed to care.  It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Albert and his bands part, and there were moments in the set where his musical genius threatened to break through, but in all this was a disappointing end to the day, and I couldn’t help but feel that The Hold Steady would have been better suited to the headline slot.Stag and Dagger is an endurance test for the music fan.  That all eight venues are accessible in easy walking distance helps, but to attempt the whole day is a tiring exercise.  But one that is worthwhile.  As Craig Finn noted in a heartfelt monologue during the Hold Steady set, people have a million excuses to stay at home in 2014.  It is easier not to go to a rock show than it is to go, and it’s important that those of us who love music and love going to rock shows get together and keep the spirit alive.  Stag and Dagger’s growing success is encouraging in this respect.