They are first world problems in the grand scheme of things.
Taking an eternity to sell our house and find a new home. Summer colds in a heatwave. Spilling a glass of red wine over a brand new suit. They all added up to a feeling of needing something a little uplifting on a Saturday night.
It’s a good job then that I had Wayne Coyne cheerleading the Flaming Lips on my doorstep.
By the time the night was out we’d had community singing, illuminated unicorns, human eyeballs, zorbs, confetti canons and giant balloons.
And for an hour and a half, mine and everyone else’s troubles subsided a little bit.
Music festivals and North London’s Alexandra Palace have a wee bit of history.
Way back at the start of the First Summer of Love, Ally Pally hosted the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, featuring the best Psychedelia that 1967 had to offer, in the shape of Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, amongst others.
In recent years, the now-defunct All Tomorrow’s Parties promotion team gave us I’ll Be Your Mirror, weekend festivals set inside the shabby chic of the Great Hall and the Panorama Room. These stopped after ATP’s ill-founded attempt to shift the Festival to the soulless box of East London’s Excel Centre.
Since then, the venue has been used for a mix of arena concerts, such as the War On Drugs and Lorde, snooker and darts and Street Food Festivals.
Kaleidoscope was the first foray back into music festivals and it worked, helped by the unique geography of the venue and the UK’s ongoing heatwave.
Confession time though – after another taxing day of North London house-hunting, I arrived relatively late. So if you are looking for commentary on the multitude of events that were happening in the comedy arena or the travelling stages, then I’m afraid you’ll need to look elsewhere.
This was a wham bang thank you, Mam, of getting something to eat and heading for the main stage.
Putting the stage at the bottom of the steep South Slope was a masterstroke, the steep incline creating an instantaneous amphitheatre. The weather was clearly a blessing in this regard, as I shudder at the prospect of muddy underfoot conditions.
The promoters had gone for a quality over instant star appeal line up but it fitted perfectly into the historical context of festivals at the Palace. Whether it was Katherine Ryan or John Cooper Clarke on the comedy stage or the Go Team or Beth Orton on the main stage, these were established performers with kudos and confidence not to be overawed by the setting.
First up in my abbreviated festival was Ghostpoet, who has been touring heavily on the back of 2017’s “Dark Days and Canapes” album. It’s a record that has been on regular rotation at home, capturing the strange post-Brexit referendum Trumpian dystopia that we seem to be living through. I saw Ghostpoet directly after the album had been released at Rough Trade East and the band have been clearly sharpening the set in the past twelve months. Dressed uniformly in black, the band cherry-picked material across Ghostpoet’s career with a heavier focus on his last two LPs. Ghostpoet is continuing the good work of Massive Attack and Ghostpoet, offering political and social commentary but not forgetting the tunes or the grooves. He’s clearly comfortable playing to a larger stage, sharp-suited and working the stage like the Bad Seeds, directing his band to take it up or down a notch as the dynamics demanded.
Whether it was familiarity on my part with the more material but I felt the more recent songs worked best, with a desperate Trouble And Me and a defiant final Freakshow.
The latter part of the set was marred by some sound issues with the feed from different instruments cutting out. The band were left high and dry somewhat, relying on the crowd to understand what was going on. It left me pondering what musicians prefer in this situation. Would you rather plough on, unaware, not wanting the musical flow interrupted? Or would you rather have a techie put his arm around you and stand down whilst the gremlins were dealt with? I got the impression on Saturday that it was the former but only because the latter didn’t happen.
35 years into their career, the Flaming Lips have become a tad formulaic. The good news though is the formula is perfect for nights like this. Take the charismatic Coyne and his able musical assistants, chuck in the inflatable props that come as part and parcel of the show and finish with some show-stopping singalongs. Opening with the Soft Bulletin’s Race for the Prize, the salvo of confetti and balloons were still in the air when the roadies inflated a pink bag of nylon and Wayne joined the crowd at the front for a mass singalong to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (“she’s got a black belt in karate, hai! hai!).
The rest of the show was a pitch-perfect exercise in taking a neutral festival crowd and using a mix of the odd but appropriate cover (Bowie’s Space Oddity) and sheer fun and personality to win the crowd over. None of the Lips songs were particularly huge hits. All of the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, She Don’t Use Jelly and the Oklahoma state song Do You Realise? are recognisable but none have permeated the wider audience consciousness.
But on Saturday night, they were embraced as if they were Hey Jude or Born To Run.
Wayne Coyne and his colleagues brought a much-undervalued quality to the Kaleidoscope Festival – absolute unmitigated joy. The sense of fun was overwhelming and the unfettered joy was evident throughout the crowd. Forget cooler than thou, playing only your new album, unengaging festival sets. This band went out on a limb and broke through the fourth wall. It was marvellous to be a part of it.
The festival appeared to be an artistic success and given the amount of sold out food and drink stands, a commercial one too. Here’s hoping for a repeat in 2019.