"Lazy Flies" is easily one of Beck's weirdest and wordiest songs. It has a very strange feel to it, completely unique from any other Beck song. The repetitious vocal melody is constantly anticipating a chorus that never comes, until he "lalala"s a little at the end.
As Beck describes it, the song "is this imaginary movie about some colonial, futuristic backwater. But it also contains elements of the barrio I grew up in. I grew up in that seedy part of LA where all the Salvadorean mechanics and maids who work in the big mansions of the super-rich elite in the Hollywood Hills live." This mix of imagination and reality, while in most of Beck's work, here is at its most cinematic. It truly is an "imaginary movie." And it really is both "colonial" and "futuristic" at the same time!
Images of decay and uselessness are prevalent in the lyrics. The opening lines describe this decaying situation with "lazy flies are hovering above," which bring to mind garbage and ruin. Beck allows the listeners to relate to their own garbage, their own decaying situation, be it real or in the mind. For Beck, it could have been something he saw in Los Angeles. He's not really looking for escape, but does offer a fairly graphic description of this hell with images of hideous games and dust and shadows of sulphur. He wonders, "Who wants to be there?" All the people who are
there are doing pointless things like chewing dry meat, going on brochure vacations (i.e., dreaming of leaving), and harnessing dead horses. This world is not a pleasant one. I think the song could really use a chorus of some sort, which, if anything, would have put a little perspective on this world.
One of Beck's talents is writing about all this debris and decay, but without making it overly depressing or disturbing. Many of the songs on Mutations
are like this, from "Cold Brains
" to "Dead Melodies
" to "Lazy Flies." Beck talked about this: "When I sing about decrepitude or corrosion, I'm not sittin' at the wailin' wall. These aren't depressing things to me. They're kind of humorous, ambiguous. They're just part of the fabric of my life. In my mind, a perfectly manicured suburban world is more of a wasteland than a pile of rusted iron. I could be writing about the most idyllic place and [I'd] make it sound like a way-station at the Apocalypse." I think this description really
fits "Lazy Flies."
Played live 110 times:
January 10, 1999April 11, 1999April 12, 1999April 14, 1999April 16, 1999April 18, 1999April 19, 1999April 21, 1999May 8, 1999May 9, 1999
...and 100 more
Earliest known live version: January 10, 1999
Latest known live version: July 6, 2018
"Lazy Flies" was played a good amount for a couple of tours (1999-2003 mainly).
1999 Mutations tours
The song was premiered on stage on January 10 1999, in New York. This version was a full-band performance, and a little ragged. Afterwards, Beck commented, "That's a lot of chords!"
A couple months later, it was also played at a number of the Mutations
concerts in Japan. It had an interesting and different stage arrangement: the first verse was just Beck singing with acoustic guitar, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen shook a shaker. Then with the beginning of the second verse, the rest of the band joined in. It spiced the song up a bit, made it feel a little more dynamic.
2000-2001 Vultures tours
From 2000 to 2001, "Lazy Flies" appeared in acoustic sets here and there (at around 20 of 110 shows). One of these was on February 18 2000, in Philadelphia. Before the song Beck asks, "You're gonna have to let me slide if I have to abort ship on this, OK?" He sings the first two verses only (and not the repeated coda), and though he sounded worried about remembering the lyrics, they all come back to him just fine.
A few band arrangements of "Lazy Flies" did sneak into the set during the summer of 2000. It was very similar to the Mutations
-tour versions from a few years before. Roger Joseph Manning Jr. adds all sorts of synthesizer effects before jamming on his harpsichord a bit.
2002-2003 Sea Change tours
Beck again played the song consistently in August 2002. He didn't play it at the first four shows of the tour, but it was at every show after that. The performances from this tour are definitely my favorites of this song, though I cannot really explain why. It just sounds better. :-)
In October 2002, much like in August, Beck didn't play "Lazy Flies" at the first three shows. But then once he started, he didn't stop playing it. Never played with the Flaming Lips, always played solo, this seems to have been one of Beck's favorite songs to do back then.
Solo versions continued in April 2003.
On February 14, 2003 Beck played a version with his band, which continues during the summer 2003. He did it throughout his US tour in June; it was mostly forgotten during the August tour in Europe though (just played once).
After the Sea Change
tours of 2003 ended though, the song promptly became a rarity, only showing up on occasion.
2005-2006 Guero / Info tours
There were a lot of shows through 2005 and 2006 behind these two albums, but we have only "Lazy Flies" on two setlists. The first was part of a long acoustic medley of songs in July 2005. Beck took a break from November 2005 to May 2006 to finish up Info
, and at the first show back, he played "Lazy Flies." (I think possibly with a band.) He ever played it again that year though.
2013 pre-Morning Phase tours
Beck ignored the song through the Modern Guilt
tours, took a few years off, and then in 2012 and 2013 returned to the road. In the summer of 2013, Beck was doing some acoustic/solo-ish type gigs and played "Lazy Flies" 5 times. He then did at 2 shows in South America in November.
He did not play the song on the Morning Phase
tours, or since.