Teletubby time: Dancing onstage with the Flaming Lips

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Me in a storm of confetti dancing dressed as a Teletubby. Sean Pecknold photo

When was the last time you saw a drunk Teletubby? For me it was Memorial Day weekend of 2008 and the Teletubby in question was dancing right next to me. That was before the stumbling and stammering intoxicated Teletubby did a 10-foot faceplant while attempting the Running Man. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up and do some scene setting.

It was the final night of the Sasquatch! Music Festival and I was one of 24 lucky people chosen to dress up as a Teletubby and dance on stage during The Flaming Lips’ set. Dancing while costumed as Dispy (he’s the neon green Teletubby in case you’re curious) was one of the most amazing and exhilarating experiences of my life.

For those unfamiliar, the live Flaming Lips experience includes singer Wayne Coyne entering the stage inside of a giant hamster ball, lots of confetti cannons, fake blood, puppets, balloons the size of Volkswagen bugs, lasers and of course costumed dancers, which is where I come into play.

So how does a Teletubby dance? Not gracefully. I was kicking my legs, flailing my arms and jumping up and down like a toddler who spent the morning doing shots of Red Bull with Mountain Dew chasers.

I’ve been at this music journalism thing for about a decade now so I thought I had experienced music in just about every way possible. After my time in a Dipsy suit I realized I wrong. I’m sure I likely looked ridiculous (actually, I know I looked ridiculous because I’ve seen the pictures) but I didn’t care because I was having the time of my life. However, it wasn’t jumping around acting a fool in front of thousands that changed my perspective on music. The impromptu community formed around the music is what made my time as a Teletubby such a transcendent moment.

Wayne Coyne, left, and me before the show. Brian Kerin photo

During breaks between songs the members in my Teletubby troupe hugged and handed out jumping high fives. We linked arms and swayed from side to side, did the can-can and lifted each other off of our feet at times during massive group hugs. Oh, and when that aforementioned Teletubby who had one too many landed face first in the photo pit we all laughed and then helped him back onto the stage so he could continue dancing. We were a no Teletubby left behind sort of community.

We were all sharing such a unique, positive experience it felt as if we were somehow deeply connected to each other even though we had all just met less than an hour prior. I had never felt such a connection with complete strangers and it was the music of the Flaming Lips that brought us together.

When I wasn’t concentrating on dancing I made sure to spend as much time as possible between smoke machine blasts to enjoy the moment. Everyone in the sea of humanity that was the crowd of 22,000 at the Gorge Amphitheatre was dancing, singing and appeared to be in a state of pure ecstasy. I will forever remember the massive Cheshire grins I saw when I glanced into the eyes of the audience.

In a word it was unreal. Except it was real because I was right there living it.

Oh, and did I mention the part of the show where naked women danced with the band on stage during a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same?” That’s how amazing and exhilarating my time on stage was; the naked dancers were an afterthought compared to everything else that happened.

Nudity, Teletubbies, confetti, smoke machines and spaceships aside, dancing with the Flaming Lips was pure bliss. It was the most euphoric life-affirming feeling I have ever experienced. Easily the best drug trip I had ever been on, except there were no drugs involved as I was stone-cold sober.

I’ve heard people tell stories about how a certain song or band has changed their lives and I thought I understood how that could happen. But I never knew what that felt like. Now I do.

While I was dancing and living in the moment with my Teletubby brethren, the music transcended the simple vocals and instrumentation I’m used to hearing on my stereo. It became something real; something tangible I was physically and emotionally moved by all while acting a fool dressed in costume as a character from a television show catered to toddlers.

When I woke up the next day I felt like a different person. I felt invigorated and inspired and ready to tackle whatever obstacles life had to throw my way. I had a newfound zest for life and wanted to share my joie de vivre with anyone who would listen.

So when the Lips perform at the Paramount Theatre Tuesday I won’t be on stage dressed as a yeti or snowbunny (those were the costumes used for dancers during the band’s last local concert at Marymoor Park in 2009). I will be in the crowd covered in confetti wearing one of those Cheshire grins. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll be able touch Wayne Coyne’s giant human hamster bubble while my inner Teletubby dances his ass off, after a few shots of Red bull of course.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 13 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and former editor of the defunct music site Ear Candy.