FLAMING LIPS: Do You Realize?

Live at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 2011. With Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: In the center of Hollywood right next to the Paramount Studios lot lies the Hollywood Forever cemetery, which, in addition to housing to the bodies of, among many others Cecil B. DeMille, Art Pepper, Yma Sumac, Johnny Ramone, John Huston, Virginia Rappe, Bugsy Siegel and Fay Wray, also serves as an outdoor film venue, art exhibitor and concert venue. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the burial grounds will be loaned to Oklahoma psychedelic rock band the Flaming Lips, who will perform two classic albums, the band’s own “The Soft Bulletin” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” on successive nights. Needless to say, for a band known for its imaginative live and studio performances — the notion of having a graveyard as a canvas was too tempting to pass up.  Coyne said the ideas flowed as they were imagining the possibilities of the shows, and that the cemetery was open to the band’s ideas. “They said, ‘Wayne, you can use anything here you want to do the show. They showed me the bell tower, and your mind immediately goes to some, ‘Of course, the Flaming Lips could do something.’ You kind of think of it as like the way that John and Yoko did the bed-in for peace — and people would just show up and we do this great rendition of ‘Do You Realize?’ while the sun comes up and everybody’s taking acid or something. I thought, why don’t we try?” MORE

RELATED: It’s a few clicks before zero dark thirty backstage at Bonnaroo’s Which Stage where Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are about to perform before a massive afternoon crowd. Nobody here knows it yet but something miraculous is about to happen. A walk on water moment.

As per usual this time of year in Bonnarooville, it’s hotter than Georgia asphalt. Jesus-haired frontman Alex Ebert and his band of merry pranksters are taking refuge from that big ‘Ol Tennessee sun in the cool crisper-like confines of a mobile home on cinderblocks that currently serves as their dressing room. There’s nearly a dozen of them milling around like ants in a box, warming up on their respective instruments, chatting or just chillin’ like Bob Dylan. They are all dressed in beatific smiles and various shades of nouveau hippie chic. Everyone seems a little barefoot in the head, if you know what I mean.

The infinite sadness of the Beatles “Long, Long, Long” — a band favorite — blares from a boom box. Trumpeter Stewart Cole warms up with trills. Drummer Josh Collazo taps out a beat on the wall with a pair of sticks. Jade Castrinos, who plays psychedelic June Carter to Ebert’s hippie Johnny, touches up her mascara in the mirror. She’s dressed in a white, high-necked knee-length prairie dress, the kind the Manson Family chicks wore to court appearances back in the day. Ebert, his long hair swept up in a makeshift updo in deference to the heat, is dressed in white linen pants and a droopy white sleeveless shirt. He has a dirty butt and a faraway look in his eyes. Very faraway.

The tour manager ducks his head in the door and issues the two-minute warning. As per their pre-show ritual, the band files out into the heat and links arms in a perfect circle to form The Huddle. Alex looks over at me watching from a distance and implores me to join The Huddle, which I do without hesitation. With his girlfriend at his side holding his newborn son, Alex commences ‘pass the breath.’ Inhaling deeply and holding it, he looks to his right and nods and the person next him inhales and holds it and then turns to her right and nods and so on until it circles back to Alex, who then exhales and gives the nod and one by one like dominoes everyone exhales. He leans over and kisses his son on the head, smiling down at him and saying to know one in particular “Raised in a cult.” Then he leads The Huddle into a sustained chant of ‘ohhhhmmmm.’ As the chanting continues Alex looks skyward, his eyes rolling up in the back of his head. It’s an unsettling sight for the uninitiated but there is no cause concern. He is, he will explain later, locating his third eye.

The band breaks The Huddle and ascends the stairs to the Which Stage, triggering an ecstatic roar from the assembled multitudes. There must be 20,000 people out there. The band launches into “40 Day Dream,” the celebratory sunburst processional that kicks off Up From Below, the 2009 album that made this unlikely band of refugees from the Island Of Misfit Toys an international sensation. The crowd sings along:

It’s the magical mystery kind, must be a lie
Bye bye to the too good to be true kind of love
Oh no, I could die
Oh, now I can die

By mid-song Ebert can’t be contained, he hops off the stage and with a weird, gnarled leper gait wades into the swooning crowd, handing out hugs and high fives and good vibrations. It’s only the first song and already he has the crowd eating Kumbaya out of his hands. You can almost see the love radiating off the crowd like the distant shimmer of heat rising from a desert highway.

Right here, right now it’s all peace, love and understanding and from the look of things nobody in attendance thinks that’s remotely funny. The medics, always on the lookout for heat stroke victims and drug casualties, wear T-shirts that say YES YOU CAN TELL US NO JUDGEMENTS. Even security, usually a profession populated by paid brutes who got into this business for the money but stayed for the violence, wear shirts that say I AM HERE TO HELP. So, too, is Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. You may scoff at all this, I know I did at first, but that is to be expected. It’s well-known by now that the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.

Before we go on, I should point that I have parachuted into this story with some reluctance and a backpackful of suspicion and skepticism about the whole Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes phenomenon. It all strikes me as a little too hippie-dippy precious, a little too Godspell for it’s own good. The band closes with a triumphant “Home,” the whistling psych-folk spaghetti western that’s the raison d’ etre of the band’s burgeoning fame. Today it will provide the soundtrack for Ebert’s walk on the water moment. His second, by my count.

The first was back in 2010 when they played Coachella for the first time. Before the band played a note, a nervous Ebert accidentally knocked his mic stand into the crowd where it cuts a deep gash into the forehead of an audience member. Blood pours down his face. All of this, mind you, was captured by the Jumbotron cameras and writ large for a crowd of 35,000, sending up a collective “Ohhhhhhh!” of alarm and concern. Ebert offers a heartfelt apology, kisses his hand and then presses his hand to the man’s cheek, and then he literally gives the bleeding man the shirt off his back and wraps it around his head as a bandage. Crowd goes ballistic.

The Jesus-looking guy in the white suit just healed the sick!

OK, technically he did make the guy ‘sick’ in the first place, which is a little bit like a hospital selling you cigarettes and then treating you for lung cancer, but in 2013 if you want miracles — and of course we all want miracles — it’s gonna take a little willing suspension of disbelief. You might have to squint a little bit to see it.

The second walk on water moment happened right before my very eyes. It was in the middle of “Home,” during ‘storytime,’ a long-honored tradition at Edward Sharpe concerts where the band quiets down and Alex and Jade wade into the crowd and hand the mic to whoever has a story to share. Usually it’s something along the lines of ‘My best friends Topaz and Saffron and I became best friends when we would lay in the sand at Venice beach and look up at the sun and listen to your songs and that was the best summer ever! So thank you. You made me a happier person.”

Sometimes drunk people just shout semi-coherent variations on ‘DUDE, YOU RULE! NO DUDE, DUDE, DUDE, LET ME FINISH! I JUST WANT TO SAY YOU FUCKING RULE! WOOOOH!!!’ Sometimes they propose marriage — that’s happened at least twice and she said ‘yes’ both times. But today is special. Today, something wonderful is going to happen.

Having waded about a hundred feet into the crowd, Alex hands the mic to a frail figure, a pale boy with a pink mohawk. “About a year ago,” he says. “You guys visited me in my hospital room — remember? And I got a bone marrow transplant that day that saved my life!” Alex literally leaps into the crowd and wraps the boy in the pink mohawk in a bear hug. Crowd goes ballistic. Tears roll down my cheeks.

We must be in heaven, man!

[From the August issue of MAGNET MAGAZINE]