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Monday, June 29, 2009

Report from the Pitkä kuuma kesä festival in Helsinki - Atmosphere, The Flaming Lips & Girl Talk

(Atmosphere in Helsinki - Photo by David de Young)

Pitkä kuuma kesä isn't the largest festival you'll visit, but it may be one of the most unique. Staged on the grounds of an out-of-use natural gas refinery in Helsinki,Finland, the festival hosted more than two dozen world-class bands this past weekend.

I had at least a double-dose of luck when it comes to how I ended up there. Arriving in Finland Saturday, for no other reason than I had not been, first a friend alerted me that local Twin Cities hip-hop group Atmosphere were performing in Helsinki on Sunday, then I happened to run into Wayne Coyne, frontman of The Flaming Lips, the headlining act for the festival weekend, as he purchased a cup of ice cream in the Helsinki City Centre. Enough luck yet? Wayne was then kind enough to put me on the guest list, saving me the 56 euros it would have cost for a one day pass. (A ticket for both days was priced at 90 euros in 2009.)

After touring the city by bus and boat Sunday afternoon, I took a cab to the festival site and arrived just Mogwai had begun their set on the larger of the two stages ("Lava" is Finnish for stage.) It was my first time seeing that UK band live, and they seemed a little reserved, but their down-tempo rock was a good way to ease me into my evening.

Video clip of Atmosphere's "Sunshine"

Up next on the Klubilava was Atmosphere, playing as a 5 piece this night, from The Twin Cities USA. They opened with "God Loves Ugly," and their set included many references to our fair city of Minneapolis. The set featured songs from their most recent album, "When Life Gives You Lemons..." plus some older tunes. The Finns seemed pretty impressed by them overall, participating with hands and fingers in the air when prompted, and the front row sang along to many songs. Slug was wearing a P.O.S. T-shirt, which thrilled me (P.O.S. is wrapping up his/their own tour of Europe right now) enough that I shouted out between songs, "Nice t-shirt," which prompted a friendly "Thanks" from Slug. While telling one story, Slug joked, "You have to forgive me, my English is not so good." He told of arriving in Helsinki on Saturday, which was a rather chilly and gray day, but that the Finns were still out partying until all hours of the night. Sunday's weather, on the other hand, was damn near perfect. Mid-set he introduced "Guns and Cigarettes" saying he's not normally political, but he thinks it's a shame that cigarettes
are getting more expensive while guns get cheaper.

flaming lips closer1
(The Flaming Lips in Helsinki - Photo by David de Young)

The Flaming Lips came on at 9PM, and the sun remained up for their entire set (sunset was around 10:50 PM last night.) One newspaper reported that the Lips had canceled their laser show tonight because they were in too close proximity to the Helsinki airport (20 kilometers.) It must have been my 7th or 8th time seeing The Lips, mostly at European festivals, but several times in Minneapolis as well including The Uptown Bar in 1988 or so and First Avenue. Wayne Coyne asked the pot smoking side of the crowd (stage right) and the beer drinking side of the crowd (my side) to move together into the middle to help support him during his space ball walk which he did before the opening song "Race For the Prize." I recall in Denmark a few years ago Coyne had introduced "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" with a short speech about how much he was embarrassed that George Bush was the president of the USA, but this time he quipped, "How lucky can we be to have Obama?" which drew many cheers, including my own. I gotta say it is weird (first time in as long as I can remember) that I would be proud in Europe to cheer publicly the President of the United States and have those around me actually do the same.

Coyne mentioned Michael Jackson's passing as he segued into a slow 1/3 time version of Madonna's "Borderline." He played "Taps" on his automatic trumpet after a few words on how he wishes the US would end "this stupid war" and that was possibly the most emotionally moving moment of the entire night. He said there were so many funerals, that there were not enough musicians to play "Taps" and someone had invented this instrument to do it. He looked forward to a day when the only people who had to play such an instrument were The Flaming Lips. My eyes got wet enough that I actually had to wipe them.

Set closer/encore was "Do You Realize?" for which I pressed myself up against the front barrier and got some good video. The size of the crowd was such that it felt like there was more confetti and more balloons flying around than normal at a Flaming Lips show.

Yet to come was Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis), whom I have never really gotten into, but I waited out his entire DJ set (some of it back in the beer garden.) Wasn't a bad way to end a Sunday night in Finland. The sun was down (sorta) by midnight as I left the festival grounds and walked half the way back to my hotel, flagging a cab eventually as I had no idea where I actually was, just a sense I was walking in vaguely the right direction.