Why I Haven’t Given Up On The Flaming Lips
Right from the day of the announcement I had reservations about The Flaming Lips at First Avenue. In fact, as dumb as it now sounds, I had actually planned on not going. If any of you follow front man Wayne Coyne on any sort of social media, you may have thought the same thing as me; Wayne is being a mid-life crisis asshole and the entire band has fallen off their rockers what with the stuff they’ve been doing with Miley Cyrus and all. Those are the downfalls of putting yourself out there in this day and age. Any type of negative news will spread like wildfire, and more than likely be blown out of proportion.
There are many words that describe the Flaming Lips, but stagnant and cliché are not two of them. I believe there’s a tipping point at which a bands catalogue allows them free reign to do whatever they want without any backlash from fans and critics and the Flaming Lips have most certainly reached that point, though it took a while for me to come to terms with this. Our personal opinions of the “material” the Lips have been putting out recently is inconsequential, the real point is that they continuously dive deeper into that psychedelic rabbit hole – which is exactly what they’ve done.
I’m so thankful my home girl Mar Mar Superstar was determined to see them. It really didn’t take that much convincing to get me to change my mind and start scouring craigslist for tickets. And why not? These guys have been one of my favorite bands for a decade plus. Heck, I have them to thank for getting me to the little slice of heaven known as Bonnaroo for the very first time in 2010. Forgetting all else they’ve done in my personal life; I am deeply indebted to them just for that. The way I saw it, this show was either going to be a ‘farewell Lips’ show or a ‘double down, affirmation of why I’m a fan’ show. Turns out the F-lips are most definitely still legit.
First Avenue is the smallest venue the Lips have played in the Twin Cities since their last Mainroom show back in 1998. I thought it an interesting decision (and I have no idea who decided) to downsize the venue they booked at this point in their career. You don’t get to see this band play small venues all that often anymore, these days they prefer playing festivals, so a small show is rather special thing. Though they ‘scaled down’ their setup to accommodate the smaller stage it was still overflowing with musicians, light ropes, LED screens and even a giant moving rainbow. I’d venture to guess this was the most insane psychedelic spectacle that First Ave has ever seen in its entire existence.
“The Abandoned Hospital Ship” was an interesting choice to start off the set. I’ve seen the Lips close to a dozen times and I’ve never seen Wayne hold an instrument that I could tell, with 100% irrefutable certainty, he was playing. This time he led with electric guitar as the rest of the band joined in a massive outpouring of sound while, in true Flaming Lips fashion, smoke and confetti billowed out from the stage for what seemed like minutes, encompassing everything. Being indoors where the wind couldn’t carry away the smoke and confetti just added to the awesomeness. What an absolutely spectacular way to start the show. I thought it to be impossible not to be overtaken with some amount of giddiness and joy; though judging by the faces and body language of the couple squashed up next to me, I guess I was wrong (though they seemed determined not to have any fun during the whole show; a sentiment not indicative of the rest of the crowd).
Wayne appeared to be having a gay old time decked out in a full body muscle suit. It didn’t take long for him to don a shiny silver cape, very similar to what Steven Drozd (guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter, vocalist, drummer) had on himself, whilst waving around more shiny silver stuff in the air. It took me a while to realize there were even shiny silver tassels dangling between his legs covering a would-be penis; a sight that I couldn’t help but giggle at. The rest of the band was focused intensely on their instruments leaving Wayne to deal with all front man duties.
I don’t envision many people could ask for a better setlist that they didn’t have a hand in selecting themselves. The 14 song set spanned multiple albums hitting three tracks from both classics The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Both Mar Mar Superstar and I were ecstatic that “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1″ was performed at regular speed! Over the last decade I may have seen that once, otherwise it’s always a slowed down sing along version that has Wayne shouting “Come on motherfuckers! Come on! You gotta sing this one!” multiple times throughout. The interruption this time, starting the first verse over because not enough people participated in the karate chop during “she’s a black belt in karate…..HEY! HEY!” was a welcome change. The rest of the song was nothing but pure bliss.
The most unexpected selection of the evening had to be the “Golden Path” which is actually a Chemical Brothers song featuring the Flaming Lips. I have to assume the stagnation I observed in the crowd stemmed from unfamiliarity. I refuse to believe that Flaming Lips fans could just flat out not like that song. It was during this song I first realized that the band was adding extended jams to most of their tracks, sometimes going on an extra riff for minutes at a time. As a huge Chemical Brothers fan I have to say I could not have been happier.
As much as the extended jams brought new life to old songs, even more so could be said about the lighting setup. The stage and rafters were draped with white, spaghetti/dreadlock looking rope lights that produced more colors and patterns than you might originally think possible. Anything from ‘rain’ like effects to color bursts, to color worms moved back and forth through the tubes. Have you ever bought, or even looked at the price of, those ‘Icicle’ Christmas lights? Not cheap. Each strand of rope is like those icicle lights x1,000. I can only imagine the enormous price tag associated with that setup.
The epitome of the visual experience came during the song I like to call “Redblueredblueredblueredblue” otherwise known as “Look…the Sun is Rising.” It is a very trippy, droning track off The Terror that I didn’t think too much of before this show. It started with some of the lights, but as the track progressed, every single light producing item from the rafters to the ropes crawling off the side of the stage, lighting up in sync alternating between red and blue. The visual effect was nearly disorienting by itself and when you mix it with the music the Lips did…well it made for one of the single most “what is going on?” tracks I’ve ever seen them perform.
The whole evening kept offering up pleasant surprises. Wayne switched things up by doing his infamous hamster ball crowd walk during “Vein of Stars” but this time he took a wireless microphone with him. He sang a verse in the middle of the crowd while standing on a box that had been sitting in the crowd the entire night. Steven (one of my all-time favorite drummers) even picked up the sticks for the first time I’ve seen and banged on some skins for (if I’m remembering correctly) “Race for the Prize.” Even Wayne’s declaration of acknowledgement that the Flaming Lips have the best fans of any band in the entire world felt more genuine and relevant than at past shows. There was nearly never a dull moment.
Overall the performance was one of the tightest I’ve seen from the Flaming Lips. With all the news, gossip, and allegations surrounding the band the last couple years, I was expecting them to be a bit sloppy, Wayne to be not cool, or the entire show to be less fun in one way another. Turns out it was the exact opposite. The band was extremely cohesive with each member focusing intently on their own duties. Wayne was not nearly as preachy as he has been come to be known for. We even met him at the Depot later in the night and he was nothing but energetic and nice. The songs of the evening were reworked where they needed to be, parts added here and there to improve every one as well as give every member a part to play. The lighting was top notch and in perfect taste with the image the Lips like to portray. This was not only the best Flaming Lips show I’ve seen to date, but also the best thing I have ever seen inside of First Avenue. If you’ve never seen this band live, they are an absolute must see group. If you’re a fan whose confidence in the band is waning, I’m here to assure you, the Flaming Lips ARE off their rockers and I’ll be damned if they aren’t better than they’ve ever been.
1. The Abandoned Hospital Ship
2. She Don’t Use Jelly
3. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1
4. In the Morning of the Magicians
5. Golden Path
6. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
7. Race for the Prize
8. Vein of Stars (ball walk)
9. Look the Sun is Rising
10. The W.A.N.D.
11. Try to Explain
12. A Spoonful Weighs a Ton
13. Do You Realize
14. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Article by: Eric Severson
Photos by: Eric Severson