Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Flaming Lips at Fillmore

Few acts touring the club level even attempt to compete with the spectacle that is a Flaming Lips’ concert. Both casual (frontman Wayne Coyne stoking the crowd from the stage during set changeover) and over-the-top (massive confetti cannons, balloons, lasers, and a man-size bubble sailing over the crowd), the Lips literally came out shooting both barrels – of confetti that is – when it played The Fillmore Tuesday.

The band entered from a door in a giant screen that arched across the back of the stage as if being beamed in from another dimension while Coyne walked across the crowd (pictured above) inside the giant clear plastic ball that he unveiled at the Coachella Festival in 2004 (the bubble appears to have been downsized from the original to fit indoors). Streamers rained and bigger-than-beach-ball balloons hopped across the crowd bursting with yet more confetti – and this was just the intro.

Women dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” danced stage side (and stayed there grooving in place throughout the show) as the band launched into the psychedelic Black Sabbath-like riffs of “Worm Mountain” followed by another track from 2009’s “Embryonic,” “Silver Trembling Hands.” Surprisingly “Hands” didn’t trigger Coyne to reveal his giant laser-shooting prop hands (which fit like clown gloves, but were about as tall as his torso and head combined). He saved those for much later.

The set list was probably the most consciously crowd-pleasing I’ve seen the Lips do. Its first real hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” (which the band played as guests on the original “90210” in 1995) came early in the show followed by the live favorite “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” A new song benefited from dancing green laser lights, which were used sparingly throughout the set. As with expected songs, Flaming Lips hit on expected props and gimmicks – the camera projecting Coyne’s pores, hair, and teeth onto the backdrop was another. The crowd went as wild for heavy riffing as it did for more acoustic leaning anthems like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1,” which seems a testament to Flaming Lips’ musical versatility.

The show bordered on two hours including two encores. While some bands can hit on most of its catalog in that time the Lips only got around to about 13 songs. The ones it played were worth it, especially the encores of “Race for the Prize” and “Do You Realize.” Coyne introduced the latter by addressing a group of fans that held up a sign memorializing a fellow fan that had had leukemia. He explained how her story relates to the song’s lyrics ("everyone you know someday will die/and instead of saying all of your goodbyes/Let them realize the sun doesn’t go down it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round") and how the audience helps give its simple lines weight. As clouds of confetti shot at the crowd as the song kicked in, it made for a poignant, feel-good finale.

Sean Lennon’s band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened the show with an electric set. The sound was a bit muddy and the crowd a bit chatty for he and girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s quieter harmonies. “Jardin du Luxembourg” (my favorite track from GOASTT’s “Acoustic Sessions”) provided the vintage carnival feel reflected in the band’s costumes. But the lengthy extended jam that closed its set, while a fitting psychedelic opening to a Flaming Lips’ show, proved a bit excessive especially for an unproven new band. I tend to prefer the intimacy and quiet of the group’s acoustic shows.

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