The Flaming Lips tries desperately to give more to its fans than it takes from them. It wants your emphatic applause, it wants your unconditional love, it wants your $37.50 - all fodder for creating an atmosphere that feels nothing short of magical. Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and friends left a sardine-packed Pageant full of grins, a few tears and pure-fucking-joy with all of their typical theatrics, some new tricks and treats and a high-energy show - enhanced immeasurably with but absolutely not reliant on balloons, confetti, streamers and giant hands.
After Ariel Pink's in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl, I wasn't sure what to expect of the band that in recent months I've discovered and admittedly grown somewhat obsessed with. (The band had been scheduled to perform - Pink showed up alone, ranting about how he didn't know why he was there or what he was supposed to do - "I guess I'll play some songs and then a fucking Q&A or something." He then performed a few songs a cappella and sans vocal effects, creating an interesting, entertaining and ultimately rather awkward eleven-minute spectacle. Go to a busy Target and shout, "Rape me, castrate me, make me gay. Lady, I'm a lady from today." You will then have a snapshot of what this performance felt like.)
Pink's lack of tact and concern for what his fans wanted to see earlier in the day thankfully was not a prediction of the group's performance later that night. Haunted Graffiti took the stage early and played an absolutely solid set, focused heavily on tracks from Before Today, Pink's first record with 4AD. The awkward moments were minimal, limited to Pink leaving his cell phone flipped open and wrapped around the microphone for the first ten minutes - he appeared to be mid-text - and answering a phone call between songs. Oh, and just a little bit of air guitar.
Haunted Graffiti's reverberated harmonies and hazy keyboards created the same lo-fi sound Pink's home recordings boast and Before Today reproduced. This seems to contradict the poppy, catchy hooks Pink churns out on the new record, creating the perfect atmosphere and preparing the crowd for the laser-pop explosion that is the Flaming Lips' live show.
One of the reasons why the Flaming Lips' live show is so enjoyable (and the band itself is so lovable) is the "of the people" vibe it emanates. The members set up their own equipment and do their own soundcheck -- and setting up THAT stage was no small task. Aside from the many color-coordinated instruments -- everything was covered in orange tape/paint and the drumkit was transparent orange -- there are all of the other gadgets necessary to create the Flaming Lips experience, such as microphone cameras, dozens of strobes, two absolutely gigantic disco balls, a ball for Wayne to crowd surf in and a giant screen lining the back of the stage. Combined with Wayne periodically taking the stage waving and grinning during soundcheck, it seems to be true - the Flaming Lips love you as much as you love them.
The Lips' set opened with the band members emerging one-by-one from a door in the screen and walking down a ramp to introductions by Steven Drozd (who appeared energetic and well). Meanwhile, Wayne sat below the ramp enveloped in plastic, mid-inflation, and a dozen or so dancers dressed as Yo Gabba Gabba!'s DJ Lance Rock emerged, filling the stage's last bits of negative space with even more bright orange. Wayne then traversed atop the crowd in his infamous bubble while the rest of the band created some ambiance.
After Coyne emerged from his plastic bubble, the show really began, as those shows do - in a flurry of confetti, a shower of light and the intense atmospheric shift of a few thousand smiles electrified into unabashed grins. After someone in a bear suit appeared on stage and play-threatened Coyne, he sprang upwards and began the set mounted atop its shoulders.
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