Flashing neon lights, clouds of smoke, and crowd-surfing unicorns: is this a scene from an imaginary planet, or a Flaming Lips show?
Following the release of their fourteenth studio album Oczy Mlody previously this year, psychedelic experimentalists The Flaming Lips took to the stage at The Space in Westbury, New York on a chilly Saturday evening to perform a healthy dose of their greatest hits, along with a few new gems. Midway through their There Should Be Unicorns 2017 Tour, which included multiple states across the country and several European nations, the Lips have brought nothing but stunning visuals and heart-melting, soulful sounds to audiences everywhere.
Constantly changing their revolutionary sound and artfully sculpting new soundscapes, The Flaming Lips are a rare breed. Wayne Coyne and company have been turning rock music on its head, pulling from- and revamping the styles of- legendaries such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd. On a bitter March night, The Flaming Lips offer something stark in comparison: The Flaming Lips offer an appealing alternative to the harsh realities of the modern millennium with the unapologetic escapism of their live shows. After all, what else could draw a multi-generational audience into the unforgiving weather? In a tightly packed crowd, standing next to a twenty-something in a flashy purple unicorn costume, I was determined to find out.
Just by standing on the line, one thing rang clear: this was not just a concert, it was an experience. Young attendees glued glistening rhinestones to the side of their faces, while a group of older women could be seen walking around with crowns of flowers. Countless others had some form of metallic face paint adorning their skin, while even others wore whimsical costumes. Upon entering the venue, the entire crowd gasped in awe as a wondrous mystery land unfolded: a bright purple stage awaited, decorated with countless silver streamers draped from the ceiling and a gargantuan disco ball hanging stage center. On the GA floor, giant orange mushrooms populated.
As the audience began filing in continuously, the band’s revered opener began their set. An experimental hip-hop group from Los Angeles, Clipping would not exactly be the first group that comes to mind when guessing an Oklahoman psychedelic rock band’s opener – yet, the group fit right into the crowd. Combining experimental and noise genres with the rap stylings of Daveed Diggs (a Grammy and Tony-award winning artist from Oakland), Clipping harnesses a poetic and thoughtful quality that is sharply contrasted by digging beats and disturbing sirens (in the best possible way, of course). “Does everyone have their Molly ready?” Joked Diggs early on in the set, referring to the headlining act’s psychedelic quality.
As the three members exited stage right, the audience waited silently in preparation. Mild applause built up steadily to cheers and whistles from throughout as keyboardist Steven Drozd and other members moved into the purple-tinged light. The audience erupted, however, when lead singer Wayne Coyne made his entrance, sporting his signature worn-out suit and a chain with an oversized money symbol. The band began slowly, drawing out chords from the melody of “Race for the Prize”. After nearly three minutes of Coyne carefully conducting Drozd through the measures of single notes, with the occasional input from the full band, the venue went silent. The crowd leaned in a little closer for what was to come next.
I was certainly not prepared for what was about to happen.
Without hesitation, Wayne led the full band in on a “one, two, three, four…” as the venue exploded into full color. Confetti canons expelled heaps of glistening silver and purple as the stage radiated a spectrum of ever-changing hues. Full-sized balloons rained down from above, bouncing happily off the fingertips of one audience member to another. It truly felt like another planet: it was a complete assault on the senses. Billowing smoke filled the hall in the transition from one song to the next, otherwise marked by Coyne’s cathartic and intimate gestures of glee.
However, despite the Lips’ recent release in January, the band largely stuck to their older material, incorporating only four tracks from the new album in their hour and a half set. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1” was met with an outpour of audience participation, as the venue sang in unison word-for-word the bittersweet tune of the fictional heroine. Another classic, “Pompeii AM Gotterdamerung”, was elevated by blinding strobe lights and clouds of smoke, leaving the audience seemingly isolated visually: it was just them and the music.
The night continued as Coyne donned a flamboyant outfit complete with a pair of pompom-adorned sequin pants and rainbow wings as he sat astride a plastic neon unicorn to perform ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ while galloping through the audience on his steed. For me however, the highlight of the show was The Flaming Lips’ sensational tribute to David Bowie, as the room exploded into song during this poignant and emotional moment. Coyne rolled bravely into the crowd, exemplifying the greatest form of audience participation if there ever was one: an artist physically being held up by his listeners. Despite performing Bowie classic ‘Space Oddity’ from inside his human-sized hamster-ball whilst surrounded by ostentatious stage-props, the song was beautifully understated and Coyne executed the vocal as well as anyone who dared to cover Bowie could ever expect.
Visually and sonically breathtaking, the Flaming Lips are so much more than a gig to see live: they are one to be experienced. It is an utter feeling of euphoria to attend their surreal symphonies, and Wayne Coyne’s space-age carnival was a surreal journey from start to end. Finishing off the evening with arguably their most popular track ‘Do you Realise?’, the alternative-rock vets have proved once again that not only their approach to music, but their approach to performing, is quite revolutionary.