"What?????? They are playing the what when?? NO WAY! WOW!!!"

This was my approximate reaction to hearing that the Flaming Lips would be performing at this year's Puyallup Fair, held every September in Puyallup, Washington. I didn't hesitate one minute before purchasing tickets for the whole family, despite that it was in the middle of the school/work week and Puyallup is a bit of a drive from Seattle-ish. There was no chance that I was going to miss one of the great surrealist stage spectacles in rock transported to the already-surrealistic atmosphere of a big state fair. My mind began to spin with possibilities. Maybe the Lips could do an acoustic set in the Fancy Chicken Exhibition Barn? Interview Wayne Coyne on a midway ride? Cotton candy confetti blasts? My goodness, I was giddy with delight. I've seen the Lips twice before (as has MissEight) and their shows are not only great fun, but just leave everyone feeling better about the world by the end. I don't know how they do it, but they do it every night, wherever they play. I love them.

After a short time pleasantly spent goofing around at the fair midway after we arrived in Puyallup, it was time to head into the Grandstand for openers Le Butcherettes, an L.A.-based garage-punk trio formed originally in Guadalajara, Mexico. Having previewed their album, Sin Sin Sin, I knew I would dig them but was unprepared for just how mindblowing their live show was. Vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Teri Gender Bender, dressed in pearls, a floral dress, drawn-on mustache, and a bloodied apron was an absolutely fearless force of nature, with a command of the stage that was mesmerizing. She howled, jumped, blew bubbles, paced the big stage like a hungry beast, and stared down those who stared back. She smiled, shredded, thanked the Flaming Lips kindly, and seemed to need to just burst into the audience and take over the world.  I was a little worried early on that such a changling of a show on the stage that just hosted Weird Al Yankovic a few days before wouldn't go down well with the early-night crowd, but Gender Bender won them over, as forces of nature just do. Le Butcherettes are provocative punk, and a must-see band.

(Le Butcherettes Flickr set)

After Le Butcherettes finished, I waited at the front of the stage for the Flaming Lips to get their gear set up, which is always very interesting because the band members actually come out onstage themselves and participate in duct taping, confetti-gun-testing, guitar strumming, and the like. It is usual as well for them to interact with the audience a bit at this time, always very casual and friendly, like dear friends seeing each other again. Sometimes, this is actually the case.

Lead Lip Wayne Coyne, looking like a fashion-conscious gray wolf with his fake-fur ruff, fuzzy curls, and trademark gray suit, went into whispered negotiations with one Mr. Tony, the head of the Puyallup Grandstand security team. Normally, no one is allowed to stand at the the stage in front of the first row seats other than the photographers and security. But Tony, how would Wayne be able to roll his spaceball out into the crowd if the crowd wasn't right there to hold him up? There would be nothing sadder than a Coyne-Laden Human Hamster Ball falling to the ground after fail support from only the six photographers and the rather senior-in-age security force. Tony and Wayne made a deal: fans could stay up front for the first three songs and then would have to sit down. The show could begin!

Why do I love these next two shots? Because they were taken completely blind, with the camera held up as high as my short arms could hold it while balancing on my tippy-toes, pressing the shutter and hoping for luck. I couldn't see this at all!

Ball came back, confetti came down, smoke and fiery bits and balloons and sound all roaring to life all at once.

The fans did eventually, if a little later than three songs, end up back in their seats, with a little pleading from Wayne onstage and some slightly-exasperated  prodding from the police and security. I think the crowd just wasn't gonna go back unless they had to, which is totally understandable. IT'S THE LIPS, C'MON! I shot as much as I was allowed, until I, too, had to take my seat. This show in comparison with the two others I saw, seemed a bit mellower, a little sweeter, unexpected at the imposing metal beast Grandstage. Not that there wasn't plenty of loudness, experimental blasts of noise, and the like -- IT'S THE LIPS, C'MON! -- but some of the edge I had seen before wasn't in evidence this time. It's possible that had something to do with the day's diet. "I know all this fair food is supposed to be bad for you, but I had some and I feel great!" Wayne announced, and he did seem to be in playful and relaxed state of mind.

The players played, the dancers danced, and everyone was happy. MissEight and Mr13 had leftover-confetti wars and watched the green laser beams bounce and wiggle allll the way to the back of the last seat at the top of the arena. My daughter and I sang along with "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1," and I hugged her as she stood on her seat. Mr13 nodded his head all rock-like to the Lips cover of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon," and "Do You Realize??" once again made everyone have "the most beautiful face."

There were no Fancy Chicken Barn Sessions, no edible spun sugar blasted from onstage cannons, and Wayne Coyne also announced onstage that he gets sick on midway rides, so there went that idea. But right before I stopped shooting for the night, I watched as one of the giant balloons, a green one, pop up and float lazily down again, bouncing off Wayne Coyne's head, startling him slightly. As I was directly in front of him, I giggled at this, and that he had confetti stuck to his face. When he saw me giggling, he started giggling too and we smiled at each other. I had just enough presence of mind to raise my camera then, one click, and returned to smiling, and then my seat. Out of the thousands and thousands and thousands of concert photographs that I have taken over the years, this slightly-fuzzy and not-exactly-exposed-correctly portrait is now one of those very few that I just love completely. It will always warm my heart.

And the last thing I saw after the show was over right before getting in my car to go home? A teenage boy, walking down the sidewalk to the parking lot, dragging a giant green balloon behind him.

(Flaming Lips Flickr set)

Innumerable thanks to Xander Deccio and Marina Orievsky for contact help, Dave Clifford for Le Butcherettes and Karen LaFlamme with Puyallup Fair for their awesome and above-and-beyond PR kindness, you for reading this, and of course, the Flaming Lips.