One of those glowing white bubbles contains Wayne Coyne.
The cool thing about going to a Flaming Lips show is that it really doesn’t matter what they play. I mean, yeah, you wanna hear “Do You Realize?” and, if you’re me, you wanna hear “Be My Head”, but by and large, a Flaming Lips show is about the experience. Last night was my first experience of a Flaming Lips concert at L.A.’s lovely Greek Theatre and it made me extremely happy. In fact, I defy you to be unhappy at the end of a Flaming Lips show. If you can do that, you’re one sorry bastard and/or Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
The first thing I did when I got to the show is eyeballed the merchandise. This being a Flaming Lips show, I expected some awesomely weird stuff – like Flaming Lips condoms or something. There were no rubbers, but there was Flaming Lips hot sauce and a t-shirt that said, “I experienced the Flaming Lips in concert and it made me a better human being.” You bet your ass I purchased that t-shirt. Yes indeed.
I was awaiting the arrival of my fiance and my pal Jacques (who was supposed to see Neko Case at the Greek with me earlier this summer but valiantly surrendered that opportunity to come see my band, Radical Edward, play what would turn out to be our only show – ever – at a bar in Santa Barbara), so I swallowed my pride and bought a ten dollar beer. Well, a Heineken. Hey, I had time to kill. By the way, my new goal is to open a concert venue with free parking and good beer at reasonable prices. You’ll attend, won’t you? The first opening band, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs (I know that’s misspelled, but that’s how they do it and at least it’s not as horrifyingly stupid as Wavves) was on when I got there and they seemed to traffic in some psychedelic noise that sounded better from far away.
Jacques and Anna (one of them is my fiance and if you can’t figure out which one, I can’t help you) showed up about half way through the Ghostland Observatory set. Ghostland Observatory is fairly popular among the indie kids, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why. They really fucking suck. Really. Not quite Wavves bad, but nearly. One guy was wearing a cape (I call him the Dungeon Master) and the other one looked like the bastard child of Jack White and Ric Ocasek. They had a good light show, shitty guitar tone, and their singer (the Jack White/Ocasek guy) sounds like the stuff nightmares are made of. They made me long to hear LCD Soundsystem, who would’ve been a hyper-awesome opener for the Flaming Lips. If you are reading this and are somehow involved with LCD Soundsystem and/or the Flaming Lips, please get to work on this tour immediately.
But I wasn’t there for the openers anyway. The first interesting thing to watch at a Flaming Lips show is probably the people who are all costumed up to see ’em. It was sort of like attending a comics convention (or “con”, in the parlance of our times) but the people were generally less pale and more fit (this is not an unfounded diss on the nerd crowd – I went to PAX last year and it made me really fucking happy my fiance and I can put our arms all the way around one another when we hug). The next interesting thing to watch is the set-up – while roadies ran around erecting various things and setting up amps, Wayne Coyne was flurrying about the stage, setting stuff up, talking to people, checking mics, and generally doing stuff that rock stars don’t do (come on – you’re not gonna see fucking Bono out there setting up his own shit and talking to the crowd before the show. Even if you’re a starving African AIDS baby).
The Flaming Lips set was about 2 seconds old before we had our first moment of nudity, which consisted of a naked woman in a psychedelic video, dancing in the background. Eventually, this woman was lying on her back, spread eagle, and a big white light began to come from her vagina (in a world of phallic imagery and cock-rock, I find it deeply encouraging that the Flaming Lips are all about the vagina. Good on ya, Flaming Lips). The light pulsated and grew and, eventually, the screen split, allowing the band to be “born” onto the stage. All of them except for Wayne Coyne, that is, who appeared at centerstage, inflating his bubble and inciting the crowd to go completely nuts. Which we did.
Somewhere in there, Coyne bounced ’round the crowd in his bubble and the band launched into “Race for the Prize” amid flying balloons and exploding confetti. Did I mention the dancing yetis at stage right? Or the scantily clad snow bunnies on stage left? Yeah, they were there pretty much the whole time.
As previously stated, it doesn’t really matter what the Flaming Lips played, although there were plenty of highlights – including slowed down versions of a couple of tunes from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Coyne riding an ape during “Silver Trembling Hands” from their upcoming (Rocktober 13th!) Embryonic album. I was surprised to see them play “Pompeii Am Gotterdamerung”, but also very excited because not only is that song amazing, its title contains a German word (gotterdamerung) that means a war between the gods that destroys everything. They’ve got some good words in the German.
The overall feel of the show was like going to the circus, but with fewer clowns, stranger animals, and better music. The set leaned heavily on Yoshimi, At War with the Mystics, and Embryonic with a couple of older tunes (like “Mountain Side” from the under-rated In A Priest Driven Ambulance) thrown in here and there. They closed, of course, with the official rock song of Oklahoma, “Do You Realize?”. Pitchfork is currently counting down the top 500 songs of the decade (so far – they seem to be assuming that none of the songs that will be released in the next 4 months will crack the top 500 of the decade, a pessimism I do not share, considering that they’re gonna pick a lot of shitty songs anyway) and if “Do You Realize?” doesn’t crack the top 5 (the top 3 even), they’re doing it wrong (which they probably are).