Monday, Sept. 27
Seeing the Flaming Lips in concert has always been a major trip for all of>"/>
The Paramount Monday, Sept. 27
The Flaming Lips
Monday, Sept. 27
Seeing the Flaming Lips in concert has always been a major trip for all of the senses. Back when they were still a scrappy group of weirdos from Oklahoma City with a fixation on Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers, their shows were full of flaming cymbals, fireworks being thrown into the audience, motorcycles revving on stage, and even into the mid-90's, the band draped every possible square inch of the stage in flashing, circling Christmas lights. As the band got better and more confident, their shows got more and more elaborate and colorful. However, when the band put out their ninth album (The Soft Bulletin) in 1999, they not only came back with a bit of a redefined sound, they also completely redefined the standard by which all "big rock concerts" are defined now.
Dig if you will this picture; the house lights dim, and a thick shroud of smoke envelops the golden opulence of the Paramount as a giant, circular LED screen shows a film of a golden, sparkling woman gyrating around in the nude. Radial pulses start emitting from her nether regions, and before we can even process what's happening, the golden woman is laying on her back, sonic circles still emitting from her loins, until finally the gilded mother gives birth to all of the band members, as they walk through a door in the screen. A steady drone that sounds like a train passing through the middle of the room builds up as bassist Michael Ivins, drummer Kliph Scurlock, and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd all take their respective positions on stage, and a giant plastic hamster ball begins to inflate with head Lip Wayne Coyne in it. Strobe lights pop left and right, fake smoke continues to pump in and haze up the entire hall, and Coyne is birthed into the audience's waiting hands, rolling around on top of the eager crowd and holding his hands up in triumph.
As the band starts into "The Fear" off of 2009's Embryonic LP, the giant screen behind the band shows rainbows and explosions, and confetti cannons fill the space in front of the stage with an unescapable cloud of orange and yellow shrapnel. The sides of the stage are flanked with kids dressed up at DJ Lance Rock from Yo Gabba Gabba!, all of whom are dancing wildly the entire show. Brightly colored balloons are released atop the audiences heads, and you can't help but feel this overpowering sense of wonder as you try to take every single bright color, flashing light, floating piece of confetti and musical explosion at the same time. It's sensory overload at it's most juvenile and extreme, and it's a breathtaking, beautiful thing.
One can only imagine what it's like to be in the middle of the stage, being the center of attention for a sea of dilated pupils, wearing Santa or gorilla or alien costumes, coated with confetti. Wayne Coyne takes it all in stride, and seems genuinely, humbly thankful when he talks about how the Lips have been coming to Seattle since 1985. He waxes warmly philosophical to the crowd about life, about joy and pain, and has an almost cult-like effect on the crowd, getting the audience whipped up into an unparalleled frenzy that is joyful, introspective, and unified. If anyone could ever find a reason to get into a fight at a Flaming Lips show, that person just isn't getting it.
The set relied heavily on 2009's Embryonic, which is a bit of a change in step for the band. From The Soft Bulletin on, the band made a conscious decision to rely less on the giddy, joyful freakouts of their earlier days and streamlined their sound into something a bit more digital and refined. While the band created some of their most timeless, universal material over the last decade, it's also good to see them letting go of the reigns a bit and letting their freak flag fly a bit more. Songs like "Silver Trembling Hands" and "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" from the birth-themed Embryonic are much darker melodically and structurally a bit more free, and it's actually refreshing to see Coyne and company come off as a bit more menacing than they have for a decade. While the 2000's Lips shows were brightly-colored, high-fructose joygasms, the current Lips show looks like it may have some flashbacks of bad trips past; as long as the Lips are steering the ship, though, you know the storybook ending will eventually come.
The band is sparse on their use of older material in their current live show, but those concise pop songs cut through the meandering psychedelia as some of the most emotionally powerful material. "She Don't Use Jelly" (the song that could've thrown the band into "one hit wonder" territory forever) got brought out early into the set, and was the only real nod to the first 15 or so years of the Lips existence. (Personal note: I'm all for artistic growth, but would it kill you guys to play ANYTHING from Clouds Taste Metallic? Seriously.) "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1" has always come off a little goofy on record, but in a live setting as a stripped down acoustic song, the tales of a woman who has to fight evil robots becomes a weirdly universal, heartbreakingly moving ode to personal struggle.
The true test of the band is whether or not any of this would actually work without the prop-filled circus that they've built, and the answer is still a resounding "yes". Cutting through the strobes, smoke, and confetti, the Flaming Lips are still an incredibly intelligent and relevant band after almost 30 years of music making, creating their own unique blend of folk hymns and sonic spasms that sound like no one else on Earth right now. And while yes, having a shitload of confetti cannons going and strobes popping off left and right does make everything that much more fun, the sincerely playful and curious heart of the Flaming Lips is the true main attraction of this overblown circus.
Check out this slideshow of all the night's craziness.
The Crowd: Not as full of greasy and stringy-haired freaks as I've seen at Lips shows before. Lots of polo shirts.
Personal Bias: This was likely the 12th or 13th time I've seen the Flaming Lips play. Also, I really wish they'd play at least one or two songs off of Clouds Taste Metallic now and again.
Random Notebook Dump:
Random Notebook Dump:Hopefully someone has a decent photo of this, but when Wayne Coyne came out with giant foam rubber hands that were shooting green lasers into two obese mirror balls, and then spraying those lasers all over the crowd? Yes, it's a relatively lo-fi gimmick, but I haven't been that ridiculously giddy in a while. Lasers are apparently one of the quickest ways to my heart.
Silver Trembling Hands
She Don't Use Jelly
The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine
In The Morning of the Magicians
I Can Be A Frog
See The Leaves
Ego's Last Stand
Sagittarius Silver Announcement
Do You Realize