The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Terminal 5, New York, NY – 10/1
Photo by Tamara Lee
It is rare that a concert production tries to establish a flow from start to finish, maintaining the same vibe from opening act to headliner and everything in between. It is even rarer when that flow is successfully and enjoyably uninterrupted, planting a mood among the audience that is at once tense and excited; eager and anxious. New York City’s Terminal 5 was a dark yet inviting place on Tuesday, October 1 as The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala brought their Peace and Paranoia tour to New York’s upper west side for the first of two sold-out evenings at the venue.
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened the night up in front of a light crowd of what could be perceived as eager fans of either headliner, curious and intrigued by the opening band led by Sean Lennon (Son of Yoko Ono and the late Beatle, John Lennon, of course) and his model/musician girlfriend Charlotte Kemp-Muhl. GOASTT began by filling the air at Terminal 5 with their usual brand of psychedelic dream-pop, very reminiscent of Sgt. Peppers era and Abbey Road era Beatles (Think “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “I want You/She’s So Heavy” respectively).
However, those expecting a totally mellow set from the GOASTT would have had that notion torn apart after the whimsical Lennon shared that the band would be playing what he called some “very famous …well not that famous” songs from an as-of-yet unannounced forthcoming album. Here the set took a much heavier turn, turning away from soft dream-pop and instead channeling a much darker side of 60’s psychedelia. Lennon led the band down a darker path into garage-fuzz territory before melting faces with two impressively blistering David Gilmour-style guitar solos. The mellow road was left behind, buried by an unforeseen instrumental crunch, brought on largely by three members of New York band Invisible Familiars, who voraciously acted as the backing band for Lennon and Kemp-Muhl.
The sold-out upper-west-side venue filled up quickly in anticipation of co-headliners, Tame Impala. The psych-rockers from Perth, Australia opened their set on a placid, though cautiously upbeat, note with two tracks from their debut album, 2010’s InnerSpeaker : “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Solitude is Bliss.” It wasn’t until the band’s sixth song, “Elephant” from 2012’s Lonerism, that the crowd of mostly 20-somethings truly got to rock with the band. Audience participation was at a maximum as Tame Impala aired out the laid-back “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” for a communal sing-along.
It is clear that touring and recording with the Flaming Lips (Tame Impala appears on The Lips’ 2012 collaborative album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends and the two bands will be releasing a four-song split together later this month) has had an impact on the Australian quintet’s live show. Besides bringing a positively trippy vibe (Complete with a beautiful aurora of lights floating above the crowd and the ethereal drones that ushered each song after its predecessor), Tame Impala proved they could really impress musically. The band displayed a rock-solid rhythm section, – compliments of drummer Jay “Gumby” Watson and bassist Cam Avery – on songs like “Elephant” and the synthy, instrumental “Oscilly,” used here as an extended introduction to the post-punk fuzz-rocker “Desire Be Desire Go.”
Lead vocalist Kevin Parker’s extended and restlessly monotonous guitar jams are certainly worth mentioning as highlights of an exciting evening, before the final chords of “Nothing that Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” rang out, the drone of otherworldly ambience continued to hum lightly as the stage crew commenced the arduous task of assembling the extensive aliens-on-acid stage setup for The Flaming Lips.
The low ghostly rattle buzzed on as The Flaming Lips – Steven Drozd (Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards), Michael Ivans (Bass), Derek Brown (Guitar, Keys, Percussion, Backing Vocals) and Kliph Scurlock (Drums), along with touring members Jake Ingalls and Daniel Huffman (of New Fumes) – made their way to their spots on stage. As frontman Wayne Coyne, expectedly clad in his metallic blue space-suit and brandishing a slightly disfigured baby doll, approached his chrome podium, the spirit of the crowd erupted. After a peculiar outside introduction delivered entirely in Spanish, Coyne instructed the crowd quietly, “Come on, come on, come on,” invoking louder screams from the crowd. Drozd, face painted silver to blend with his graying hair, went on to begin the haunting melody that would encompass much of “Look…The Sun in Rising,” the opening track on this year’s The Terror. With a simple and repetitious synth line, backed by industrial firecracker snare drum hits and the oil-drum hammer of Drozd’s Epiphone Double-Neck SG (with the six-string lower neck broken off), a set typical of this year’s Flaming Lips was underway.
With a set rich in poppy Lips standards such as The W.A.N.D and an encore of “Do You Realize??” (Predictable, yet always well-received), one may wonder how the freakout roster of songs from The Terror would translate live and fit the bill. The Lips have always been masters of reinvention, and their current tour continues to push the band in different directions. The rainbow of confetti and disco-ball lasers that used to dominate the funeral-turned-circus vibe of a Lips show had been given a much darker makeover. The confetti that rained down on the crowd was now a soot cloud of black paper, engulfed in dim smoke and fog. The explosively poppy anthem of hope, “Race for the Prize” has been slowed down to a sleepy drag, but in a way that emphasizes the despair of Coyne’s lyrics and melded better with newer Lips’ tunes. “Race” gave way to a masterfully performed “Try to Explain,” complete with gorgeous vocal and synth harmonies thanks to the coupling of Drozd’s raw falsetto and Coyne’s broken rasp.
After the back-to-back trip of “Butterfly, How Long it Takes to Die” and “Turning Violent,” the band changed gears and got their New York audience moving once more with a classic take on “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. As the band left the stage, a bright yellow background screen flashed the word “love” repeatedly until the band was ready to perform their encore. This should have served as a very welcome change to anyone who saw the Flaming Lips at 2012’s All Good Music Festival, where their backdrop flashed the phrase “Do the Meth” over a freak-trip of ambient weirdness. As the night came to a close, Coyne adamantly professed the importance of love and, in his all-too-familiar cracked Oklahoma drawl, reminded everybody “how lucky we are to be here, doing this together.”