Flaming Lips, Webster Hall, NYC- 3/31
The Flaming Lips, consisting of Clifton Scurlock on drums, Steve Drozd on guitar and keys, Michael Ivins on bass, and Wayne Coyne on guitar, megaphone, and Animal Band came out to an ecstatic New York City crowd. It took Coyne about five seconds to start strutting and exhorting like a South American dictator at a political rally.
Then, the screen behind them started flashing what, to the best of my recollection, read “NEW YORK CITY! TONITE! THE WORLD BEGINS AGAIN! AND IT WILL BE SPECTACULAR! AND FANTASTICAL! AND YOU WILL BE BLOWN AWAY! FUCK YEAH! TONITE THE FLAMING LIPS!”
Before I could ponder whether or not the Lips would live up to their words, Wayne Coyne picked up the fog machine and the shit hit the fan. The photo pit took a direct hit of fog and about 200 balloons were dropped from the ceiling of Webster Hall as Coyne grabbed a mine lantern attached to a thick cord and started spinning it wildly over his head before setting it down and reaching into the burlap mystery sack and pulling out handfuls of confetti and throwing them at the audience like he was Curt Schilling in a bloody sock.
Around this time, eight or nine people dressed like futuristic space people came out on one side with a guy in a rabbit suit. At the opposite end, eight or nine people in Santa outfits and another guy in a rabbit suit came out. All of them were dancing and pointing giant flashlights on handles at the band, audience, and each other. The famed Lips madness had begun, and the band kicked into “Race for the Prize,” with Coyne singing behind a 25-foot image of Coyne singing (thanks to the “Wayne Cam”). The Lips proved in the first two minutes that you don’t just see a Flaming Lips show, you experience it.
Coyne then picked up his double-necked twelve/six string guitar and began “Free Radicals.” Although off their new album “At War with the Mystics,” which didn’t come out for another week, the vast majority of the audience was singing along to every word, having “borrowed” the album from Internet leaks until they could pay for it when it came out.
As though it weren’t enough of a sing-along, next came “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Although a little sloppy by the merits, no “Bohemian Rhapsody can ever be disappointing, and the words were broadcast on the screen behind the Lips on the assumption that a few dozen in the audience may never have seen “Wayne’s World.” The singing along continued with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, pt.1” Wayne broke out his modified acoustic (every instrument in the Flaming Lips is modified) and sang against the backdrop of some crazy Japanese stock footage. Since most of the balloons had since popped, and because nun puppets are required for any successful entertainment event, Coyne put on a genuine Boxing Nun Puppet, lined her up in the Wayne Cam, and had the nun puppet lead the audience in a Yoshimi reprise, 25 feet tall in all her resplendent pugilistic glory thanks to the giant screen behind the band.
Coyne then picked up his Animal Band (the cow says “moo”), which a fan had modified with an amplifier hookup, and began the Cow Jam, where Coyne would hit the Cow and Duck buttons and the band would follow on guitar and bass. By all laws of nature, the Cow Jam should have really sucked. At the Lips show, it was focused and excellent. The band went straight from it into part two of “Yoshimi” and took the audience back to the land of hard-driving rock and roll.
After a lovely “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” which is like a children’s book on the nature of power, temptation, and selfishness (and I mean that in a good way), the Hulk hands came out for “The Gash,” which Coyne turned, somehow, into a Kumbaya, hand-swaying, love-your-neighbor moment, Coyne picked up the bullhorn for “The W.A.N.D” which was the only letdown song of the night. While great in the studio, Coyne was inaudible on the bullhorn, and there’s not much one can do to save a song that can’t be heard.
Afterwards, New York City got a nod when Jon Stewart appeared on the video screen and introduced The Flaming Lips (it was a clip from the old Jon Stewart show on MTV) and the band launched into another sing-along to their one hit, the gleefully stupid-yet-clever “She Don’t Use Jelly.” The band enjoyed poking fun at their brush with pop stardom, and later played the infamous clip from their “Beverly Hills 90210” appearance at the Peach Pit. I felt twelve years old again, and that felt good. The band closed with “Do You Realize?,” another should-be-a-children’s-book about the brevity of life and the joy of being here and loving others. Topless dancers were on the big screen to remind us that life is beautiful, and it was a nice mellow comedown for an exhausted crowd.
The band went deep into its back pages for an encore that started with “Love Yer Brain.” Charming, touchy, and mellow, Coyne explained afterwards that it’s great to love someone even if they don’t love you back, and that unconditional love is a source of happiness, regardless of reciprocity. Coyne, an evangelical atheist, drew from this part of the Bible even while discouraging his audience from believing in anything “magical.” Closing the show with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” guitar blazing, every word sung by the audience, giant images of the architects of the Iraq War (Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld) reminded us of the world outside of a Flaming Lips concert before the band took a final bow and sent us back into the outside the grid of streets that forms lower Manhattan, the financial and diplomatic capital of the world, with its delineated social hierarchies and bohemian artistic communities.
But for those 90 minutes, there were no hierarchies only the community of Flaming Lips fans and the band that throws great parties and mixes them with thoughtful lyrics and sonic wonders.