The Lucky Marietta district came alive once again on Saturday with Party in the Park, the first ticketed concert hosted at COP in almost ten years.  Five diverse and extraordinary acts put on a vibrant and ultimately epic event in a place that has undergone an incredible transformation over the last few decades.   It was a quintessentially beautiful Atlanta spring day with a bright blue sky and a shimmering sun reflecting off towering skyscrapers.

Those who arrived early enough were treated to another great set by local favorites, Ponderosa, who never disappoint.  Next came Dawes, the first of three acts from Southern California, who brought their authentic vintage Laurel Canyon sound to the sun drenched and growing crowd.  Dawes, who’s collaborated with Jackson Browne, Wilco, and Robbie Robertson, delivered mature, wise and cleverly poetic lyrics amongst interwoven organ, guitar and pounding drums.  Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith wonders about his shortcomings, singing “maybe because I come from an empty hearted town,” then artfully challenges his listener that “if you want to talk about the differences between the shadow and the man, then fire away.”   Writing knowingly about the pain of every young adult struggling to become who they really are, Goldsmith eloquently explains, “when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  And in one short lyric he puts it all in perspective for those of us who strive for something more but often come up short: “Caught between your plans and dreams, so neither come out right.”  Dawes is a band that merits seeing their shows outside of the “festival” format where their talents could get lost.  Seek them out.  They are truly worth the time.

AWOLNATION changed the pace with their genre defying sound.  Front man Aaron Bruno is a legitimate star.  With blond good looks, sly charisma and a pterodactyl scream, I couldn’t help thinking that he reminded me of Kurt Cobain with long late 80’s skater bangs.  AN truly defies categorization with a style that combines SoCal skate punk, pop loops and beats, synchronized thrash metal head banging sessions, crowd surfing and occasional Little Richard-esque “Wooos!”  Radio hit “Sail” was a highlight and an indicator that AWOLNATION has the chops to be on the scene creating their own sound that fans of all types of music will enjoy.

The next act, Young the Giant, had electricity and palpable anticipation running through the young, energetic crowd.  In the magic hour of the setting sun, Sameer Gadhia and his band mates took the stage with a bouncy vengeance and sent waves of Beatlemania-like excitement through the throng.  With tambourine in hand and tethered between his two microphones, Sameer Gadhia is poised to be music’s next great Rockstar.  His energetic crooning and sexy writhing satellite moves between his mics will soon be as familiar as Chris Martin’s looping leaps and piano bench dancing.  Already with two hits from just one album, “Cough Syrup” and “My Body,” YTG is going to explode.  In a time in music when so much is new, and so much is good, Young the Giant is an absolute standout.  Get in early on their rise and make it a point to go see these guys.  They are excellent.

Now, take a deep breath.  The Flaming Lips are coming.  Gird your loins.  Prepare your mind for expansion.  If you haven’t seen the Lips, you should.  You will never see anything like them.  Never.  No other live act has the balls – or the balloons – to endeavor to bring performance art to the height of spectacle in such an unbridled expression of ecstatic exuberance.   No other band has the courage, confidence or commitment to deliver a vision that is so beautifully bonkers.  It would be easy to dismiss Wayne Coyne as drugged out or simply tripping.  The front man, madman and ringmaster may indeed be the Pied Piper of a psychedelic circus, and those elements may be reality.  But the music, along with his toy filled performance art, is staggeringly good and inescapably intense.

The show begins with the Lips emerging through the image of the pulsating birth canal of their digital dancing deity of a mother, with Coyne on his knees worshiping the sacred feminine with outstretched arms pushing his not yet inflated crowd walking ball to the sky.  Once inflated, Coyne takes his customary walk on the crowd smiling from ear to ear as his thunderous drummers build to the crescendo of this ritual.  Once back on stage, Coyne completes the celebration of the birth and rebirth cycle with the ultimate ejaculation of confetti canons, streamers, bubbles and the release of hundreds of over-sized balloons.

As the dust settles and Coyne, with his microphone camera projecting his giant close up on the screen behind him, he urges the crowd to get louder and louder, promising that “we are all going to have the best fucking nights of our lives!”  The Lips are a gorgeous all out assault on the senses.  If you commit to following this mad shaman, you just might.

photos © 2012 Emily Kelsey