Despite its consciously eclectic lineup — a hip-hop act, a dash of bluegrass, a little bit of world music acting as the garnishes to a night of indie-styled rock — the Unlimited Sunshine tour actually was made up of only two kinds of bands: the partiers and the poopers. Brainchild of the Sacramento band Cake but headlined by Flaming Lips (easily the most emphatic of the party lobby), the show promised fun but, for the most part, felt too self-congratulatory in its smug appeal to the band’s (and by extension the fan’s) supposed good taste to really build much of a head of steam.
Experts in celebration, Flaming Lips know how to throw down a good time. Their perf was basically a repeat of their recent Knitting Factory show (Daily Variety, July 19), albeit somewhat shorter and on a slightly larger scale. Its innate optimism and ingenuous adventurousness easily made the band the most likable act of the night, while its stage show also made Flaming Lips the only act that could fill the theater. If nothing else, the band proved that an act that proudly sings “yes” will always trump a band, such as Cake, that shrugs “whatever.”
Cake, filled with deadpan ennui, is the shy guy who stood in the corner, making snide comments about the more socially adept couples making out behind the bleachers. Cake is pinched emotionally and sonically limited; when they opted to nick the riff of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” (during “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”), it wasn’t the classic Velvet Underground version, but the arrangement heard on Reed’s pandering “Rock and Roll Animal.”
Modest Mouse came off like a group of slackers so disaffected and unpopular they didn’t even rate an invite, so they stand outside, brooding and pissed off at everyone who showed up. Their set provided the answer to those who may have wondered what Pavement would sound like without Stephen Malkmus’ songs. It’s not something people have been clamoring to know, and a good thing too, because the answer is “a bucket of generic alt-rock distorted guitars.”
De La Soul was the entertainment, energetic and appealing, old school in the best possible way; they insisted the crowd respond with more than wan applause, and old favorites such as “Me Myself and I” (with Black Sheep’s Dres helping out) shook the crowd from its post-Modest Mouse stupor. Mexico’s Kinky were the hip kids from the other side of town who came early and left early. If Carlos Santana brought Latin rhythms and melodies to mainstream rock, Kinky brought Santana into the 21st century by taking his ideas and grafting them onto punky electronic beats. Sounding at times like a Spanish-speaking Beastie Boys, along with touches of mariachi and corrida, their short set had a breezy effervescence.
The Hackensaw Boys, who performed off to one side during set changes, were a welcome respite from the poker-faced alt-rock; they embodied the uplift and good times promised by the tour’s title.