(Above: The Flaming Lips get an assist from Deerhoof to cover King Crimson at the second show of their two-night stand at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kan. on June 22, 2012.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Standing in Liberty Hall during a sold-out Flaming Lips concert was like being inside a kaleidoscope. In fact, the overwhelming number of balloons, confetti and streamers made things a little claustrophobic.
The Oklahoma City rock band brought so much firepower to its two-night stand in Lawrence that the show opened with a disclaimer from frontman Wayne Coyne: Don’t stare at the strobe lights, and be cool when the space bubble rolls out.
The famous inflated see-through orb that Coyne inhabits and then rolls over the outstretched hands of the crowd came out during a cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” As Coyne rolled over the masses, it looked like he could have easily hopped into the balcony.
With a capacity of 1,200 people, the building seemed like a bandbox compared to the acres of festival grounds the Lips usually have to play in during summer festival seasons. A massive mirror ball hung so low over the stage it seemed like Coyne might be able to touch it. Late in the set he donned giant hands that shot lasers and pointed them at the ball, spraying light across the room.A giant LED screen filled the back of the stage and troupes of dancers dressed like Dorothy Gales buttressed the wings.
Fans got their chance to sing early. Favorites “Race for the Prize,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” “She Don’t Use Jelly” and the slow campfire arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part One)” all came out in the first half of the set. The second half displayed newer, more experimental material. It wasn’t as bubbly, but fans ate it up just the same.
Deerhoof: The four-piece experimental band’s carefully planned cacophony was balanced by singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s manic pixie singing and dancing. Lips drummer and Lawrence resident Kliph Scurlock joined the openers for two numbers, and the two bands joined forces for two songs during the Lips’ encore. Their first collaboration was a curveball –- a cover of Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country.” For the second number they went full-prog with a thunderous cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
The show was part of the 100th annniversary party for Liberty Hall. Seventh Street was blocked off south of the venue, between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Vendors sold everything from beer and BBQ to T-shirts and cake. Families lined up around the bounce castle while groups performed on the stage at the other end of the block. A screen at the back of the stage broadcast a live feed of Lips show.
Setlist: Race for the Prize, She Don’t Use Jelly, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power), On the Run (Pink Floyd cover), Worm Mountain, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part One), Sea of Leaves, Drug Chant, The Ego’s Last Stand, What Is the Light?, The Observer. Encores: Going Up the Country, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Do You Realize?
(Above: Michael Ivins (far left) of the Flaming Lips wants to be the star on top of your Christmas tree.)
By Joel Francis The Daily Record
The Flaming Lips make every concert feel like a holiday, so it’s unsurprising several songs in their catalog have been inspired by Christmas – the biggest holiday of them all.
“A Change At Christmas (Say it Isn’t So)” isn’t the Oklahoma City-based alternative rock band’s first tribute to Christmas. They had already brought “Christmas at the Zoo” and would soon deliver “Christmas on Mars.” But “A Change At Christmas” stands out, because it displays the “one love” hippie ethos at the heart of many of the band’s songs.
In the song, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne wishes he could stop time so the whole world could permanently live in the goodwill of the season. A time, he says, “the world embraces peace and love and mercy/Instead of power and fear.” In the last verse he pleads “tell me I’m not just a dreamer,” echoing John Lennon, another Christmas idealist.
The arrangement features many of the Lips trademarks, including a sunny wash of synthesizers and toy drum machine. Sleigh bells and chimes bring a Yuletide feel, while a simple piano line holds the melody.
“A Change At Christmas” is also notable for being one of the rare times Coyne abandons his signature falsetto to deliver his heartfelt words of hope in his natural range. The optimism of the track is cemented with Coyne’s final words. During the fade-out he declares “I think it’s all going to work out just fine.”
While the Lips’ other Christmas songs saw release on proper albums or seasonal singles, “A Change At Christmas” was tucked into the “Ego Tripping” EP released in 2003. At the time of its release, the Lips were riding the success of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” with a deluge of singles, EPs and other releases. “A Change At Christmas” has become buried in the back catalog, but it’s a rare Christmas song that plays well year-round. It’s especially worth digging out in December.
(Above: “Us and Them,” one of the few unaltered numbers from the Flaming Lips performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in the early hours of 2010.)
By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The average Flaming Lips concert already feels like the greatest party on earth. Spending New Year’s Eve with the band in their hometown felt like living inside a kaleidoscope.
For nearly three hours, the Lips said goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010 with a 90-minute main set and a rare performance of Pink Floyd’s classic album “Dark Side of the Moon.” For that feat, the band had assistance from Stardeath and White Dwarfs, the opening act, fronted by lead Lip Wayne Coyne’s nephew, Dennis Coyne.
The Lips/Stardeath version of “Dark Side” is less an homage than a deconstruction. If Floyd’s vision was a Cecil B. DeMille epic of careful, layered arrangements, then the Lips’ plays like one of Steven Soderbergh’s handi-cam experimental films, loving thrown together on a low budget, more intent on capturing the spirit than articulating the original performance.
“Breathe” was stripped of its shimmering guitars and lush harmonies and given the same blocky textures and blunt rhythms and bass lines that fuel much of the Lips’ new album, “Embryonic.” Similarly, “On the Run” was no longer a pattern of tape loops and manipulations, but fuzzed-out orgy of noise.
“Dark Side”’s most well-known number was also the least recognizable. The minimalist take of “Money” reduced the song to its signature bass line, with electronically manipulated vocals.
There were several nods to Pink Floyd in the Lips’ original material. “Vein of Stars” foreshadowed the straightforward reading of “Us and Them,” right down to the piano part and laser effects. “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” sounded like something the Syd Barrett era of the Floyd would have pounded out in the late-‘60s London underground.
The spirit of Floyd was also evident in the material from “Embryonic.” Its songs are a little more abstract and less focused than anything the band has delivered in more than a decade. Although it was a bit jarring to shift from the ultra-catchy fan-favorites to the new material, it was nice to hear the band spazz out.
With its perpetual thump of bass and guitar, “Sea of Leaves” felt like being run over by an 18-wheeler. Wayne Coyne delivered the last half of “Silver Trembling Hands” from the shoulders of a person in a gorilla suit, a bizarre vision for a bizarre song.
The poppier moments of the first set drew the biggest response. The crowd threw a lot of force into “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and the air was charged when the house lights came up and everyone joined in on the chorus (“with all your power”). The slower arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 0ne)” felt like a giant campfire. “She Don’t Use Jelly” was a reliable feel-good moment.
Although the arena was two-thirds full and loaded with energetic fans, the band seemed to have trouble filling the void. It was unusual and unexpected, because I’ve twice seen them rock a vast field at the Wakarusa Music Festival. Maybe it was the abundance of slower, spacier songs and unfamiliar new material, but the Cox Arena – which resembles a slightly larger, late-‘60s edition of Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium – felt spacious.
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Most bands tarp off the unseated sections behind the stage. The Lips filled them with balloons. As fans filed in, hundreds of the brightly colored latex orbs waited to be bumped, thrown and ultimately popped when the appointed moment arrived.
As the Lips floated into a poignant, sing-along reading of “Do You Realize??,” the balloons slowly started cascading from the balcony to the floor. When the song ended, it was nearly midnight and the house lights came up. As the crowd counted down, the band vamped and balloons filled the coliseum, obscuring the stage. Somewhere in the melee a wedding proposal was accepted.
While the music blared and balloons bounced, the stage crew had the thankless job of clearing debris from the stage for the second act. A flurry of confetti fell again over the crowd as one of the stage hands used a leaf blower to clear the area.
Despite the crew’s efforts it was a tedious 40 minutes of sound checking and testing before the Floyd set took flight. Once-giddy fans now laid or sat down in the back of the floor and yawns abounded. When the heartbeat that signaled the start of “Breathe” finally started, the crowd responded with a cheer of both anticipation and appreciation.
Material aside, the second set was markedly different from the first. After the powerful downbeat and swirling intro to opening number “Race for the Stars” the arena was awash in balloons, confetti and streamers. As the audience danced, Coyne grabbed a fistful of streamer and started twirling around like a cross between a color guard and Roger Daltrey.
But that was hours ago. The joviality and props disappeared when the band ventured into the “Dark Side.” In their place was a hovel of nearly a dozen musicians, surrounded by fog, hunched over their instruments. Although Coyne still danced, striking a cymbal with his maraca in the center of the stage, it was obvious this was Serious Music.
Coyne may have been the ringmaster, but “Dark Side” was clearly guitarist/keyboard player Steven Drozd’s show. He served as conductor, signaling the changes and conducting the performers. During “Great Gig in the Sky,” he sang the wordless melody into a megaphone, creating the musical equivalent of an epileptic seizure.
Nepotism aside, Stardeath were a great enlistment for the feat. The majority of the songs in their 45-minute opening set had a druggy, progressive bent straight out of the early ‘70s. The band showed their hand early by opening with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Uncle Wayne showed his approval rocking out from the wings of the stage.
Stardeath’s centerpiece was “The Birth,” a side-long proggy throwback complete with Theremin solo and lengthy bass/drums breakdown. The set ended with an imaginative cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.”
As the final pulse of “Eclipse” beat out, a last blast of confetti showered the crowd. The New Year was only 90 minutes old, but had already logged its first great rock moment.
Race for the Prize, Silver Trembling Hands, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, Vein of Stars, In The Morning of the Magicians, Convinced of the Hex, Evil, See the Leaves, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pompeii, The W.A.N.D., She Don’t Use Jelly, Do You Realize?? New Year’s countdown and intermission. Dark Side of the Moon (with Stardeath and White Dwarfs): Speak To Me, Breathe, On the Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Money, Us and Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse.