Critical Fandom for the Blogosphere "Pop music has for decades possessed the power to transport the human spirit and to serve as a vehicle for the transcendence that we seek." --Bill Friskics-Warren


The Flaming Lips Live:
Apocalyptic & Hypnotic Fun

A downtown Georgia plaza on a balmy spring day was suddenly transformed into a psychedelic theme park as the sun went down.

People had road-tripped from all over the region to see the Flaming Lips, weird yet accessible pop-rock veterans that some in the British press have embraced as “America’s greatest band,” heirs to the mantle of “Cosmic American Music,” an aural attitude made magickal and memorable by such divergent cult acts as the Grateful Dead and Butthole Surfers.

Without sounding too derivative or dated, the Lips ride a holy thread made of streamers and confetti, craftily connecting the dots between the legacies left by the musical likes of Pink Floyd and the culture-jamming social mischief of Merry Pranksters.

After two days of sonic variety sponsored by Southern Comfort, the conclusion was an uplifting prop-filled pop cacophony and multimedia mind-bending mission trip to Wayne’s world. Understanding that an old-school happening will fill an audience with playful and participatory pleasure in ways that a mere concert won’t, the Lips still kept the whole spectacle so solidly and sonorously grounded in infectious grooves that the critics can’t really call it a gimmick-fest. To make it all more meaningful and interesting, serious showman Wayne Coyne provided intermittent infomercial narration between songs, pithy and self-conscious annotations to bolster the entire experience.

Sure, a stripped-down practice wouldn’t have the hopelessly sexy and dorky lead singer rolling over your outstretched arms in his inflatable ball that resembles a gigantic hamster toy or the pomp and silly power of the Lips’ legion of bopping benevolent aliens and swaying stoner Santas; but the songs—mostly from the new At War with the Mystics and augmented with a stellar selection of past triumphs—still provide the prime motivation and main attraction. When properly prodded, who wouldn’t want to sing about Yoshimi battling the robots? Or join the hypnotic trance parody of the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”?

Apocalyptically crushing cover tunes packaged the entire set like bookends of tribute and irony to rock as over-the-top indulgence and profound protest missive. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” done karaoke style would have taken the roof off had this been an indoor-show, but really, it confirmed why the Lips are most at home in the free-fest and freakfest festival scene.

And the courageous coda was carefully-framed by Coyne’s preface: some of our friends are in Iraq, and they could be here with us if it wasn’t for the war. What followed was a poignant, pounding, and emotionally ferocious version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” that pushed the boundaries of a corporate-sponsored forum and surely banged some of the buttons of the Georgia crowd (as I overheard some folks remarking as they walked to their cars). Even though the latest disc has deep political subtexts, Coyne made it clear that he is no politician, and to me, that only made his message more politically meaningful. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld: take notice and warning: this insurrectionary incantation will fill the eyes and ears of thousands of young people across the continent this summer, stirring the sea that’s already ripe with discontent.

The Flaming Lips pack humor and doubt with mythic decibels and convey earnest artsy ambition with a communal and convivial spirit. The eclectic audience appeared more than open to sipping this wizard’s brew, in some cases enhanced I’m sure by the brews that SoCo was peddling. It was really a perfect rock show, with songs lingering on my tongue and ricocheting around my mind late into the night, leaving me a longing to see the Lips again, whenever I get the chance.

–Anu Bonobo


22 May 2006

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