Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Flaming Lips

Disco Rodeo

The Flaming Lips touched down in Raleigh, NC last night. What followed was quite possibly the best concert experience of my life. It wasn’t so much a concert as it was an experience—and one I’ll never forget at that.

Wayne Coyne is the world’s biggest little kid. From my vantage point on the balcony’s edge at stage left, I could see pretty much everything. During the opening set by Stardeath and White Dwarfs (also from OK City) Wayne was dancing around like a teenager, enjoying the music, just out of sight from those on the floor.

Several people in the crowd had dressed up for the occasion. I saw a full grown man in a bunny suit, a Chiquita® banana, Raphael sans sai, (a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) and even a young lady dressed as Yoshimi herself, complete with a wacky head adornment; it was almost as if she’d stepped out of the painting featured on the cover of the Lips’ release: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

The stage was set up with a wash of colorful rugs, orange mike stands, a large Japanese gong, confetti canons, a massive LED screen array, strobe lights, fog machine, and lasers. It was a real treat to watch the stagehands, as well as the band members themselves (!) set the stage. During the lull between Stardeath... and the Lips, a man went amoung the crowd with a large cardboard box full of cheap laser pointers. Within a matter of minutes, red laser beams were being fired around the entire venue, which made the wait so much more entertaining. It was almost a guilty pleasure watching the irritation grow on the faces of the Rodeo's security, but in a matter of minutes there was nothing they could do to put a lid on it.

After shooting laser beams around for about 30-40 min. or so, the Lips took the stage. But they did so in grand style. A bevy of alien cheerleaders dressed in purple flanked them on the left, and other extras in Santa suits flanked the right of the stage. They brought with them huge, oversized balloons which were promptly tossed into the crowd and tossed around. Talk about an entrance!

They kicked the show off with “Race for the Prize” from The Soft Bulletin, during which Wayne gleefully shot confetti streamer “mortars” into the air; this, in conjunction with the veritable blizzard created by the confetti canons to the left and right of the stage. It was incredible. It’s hard to describe the scene. For all intents and purposes, it was snowing, only the “snow” was orange crepe paper.

And that was the first song of the night.

photo by Chris Daniel

What followed for the nearly 2 hour set (my best guess—I wasn’t keeping track of the time) was an experience that will never be rivaled, except by the Flaming Lips themselves. They pulled their set list exclusively from their last three albums, The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and last year’s At War With the Mystics with the lone exception of the classic “She Don’t Use Jelly” from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart from 1993.

Early during the set after “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” Wayne recognized the aforementioned young lady dressed as Yoshimi, and while articulating a Nun hand puppet, invited the crowd to sing along with the Nun, this time to Yoshimi herself.

About ½ way during the song “Vein of Stars” the video array prompted us to “Get Your Lasers Ready” and then, “Shoot Wayne!” who was now slowly rotating with a circular mirror, which reflected the beams all over the crowd and room. It was surreal.

No doubt about it, Wayne Coyne is a showman. He’s in his element as an entertainer, and entertain us he did. But he also has a serious side, which came out when he brandished what appeared to be a regulation Army bugle. It turns out it wasn’t actually an instrument; it had a speaker inside it that plays only one song: “Taps.” He explained that it’s an instrument born out of necessity, since there are too few actual buglers to go around playing at the multitude of military funerals that have only increased since the Iraqi war began. While Wayne held the bugle as it played itself, Steven Drozd accompanied him softly on the piano. Many in the crowd held their hands high, flashing the peace sign. It was quite a moment.

But the truth is, the entire show was a series of moments, strung together with confetti streamers and crowd sing-a-longs. Musical highlights for me were “Yoshimi”, “Fight Test”, “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, “Pompeii”, “Do You Realize?” and the closer “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton.” I wish I had had the presence of mind to have carried a pen with me to scribble down the set list.

For a span of time last night, everything seemed right in the world. The love that the Flaming Lips create is infectious and giddy; I was blessed to be in that tractor beam of love last night, if only for a couple hours.

I'll leave you with this gem of a lyric:
Yelling as hard as they can
The doubters all were stunned
Heard louder than a gun
The sound they made was love


Beth said...

Better than Mr. Waits last summer? It does sound an incredible night ... and I'm still pouting that you didn't invite me.

Dale said...

Sounds absolutely amazing and your love shines through! I only know a few of their songs but they're definitely like nobody else.

bigshoulders said...

@ beth: Well... as far as a multi-sensory concert experience, there is nothing like the FLips Live show. Waits was like going to church, whereas the FLips was a birthday party. I loved 'em both!

ambiguous? yes. :)

bigshoulders said...

@ dale: you are absolutely correct, Sir! do yourself a favour and see them when they swing through Canada!


Nicolette said...

Hi there, I was actually on stage as a Santa at the Disco Rodeo show. Check out my blog on Myspace for pics from the show. I started to write a blog as descriptive as yours but I am not as advanced about writing blogs and how the functions work when editing so I screwed up and cleared my whole recount unfortunately. Thanks for the details and great review, I've been reading some downright painful ones from other bloggers. I just had a wonderful time and couldn't imagine saying or hearing anything bad about this show. Enjoy!

My page link

bigshoulders said...

hi nicolette!
sweet! an insider's viewpoint on what it's like to be a dancin' Santa at a Flaming Lips show.

i corrected the above link... this should work:

thanks for sharing!