The Flaming Lips (photo: Joshua Huver)
Wayne Coyne was all smiles on Wednesday night as he and his psychedelic rock outfit the The Flaming Lips catered to a sold-out crowd of glittery, rainbow-clad unicorn themed fans at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.
The 35 year veterans of the stage (they formed in 1983) has seen the band‘s obsessions with 60s psychedelia and inter-dimensional science fiction themes evolve into an outstanding and simultaneously incredibly elaborate experience.
Never one to hide their affinity for the mind-releasing agents of music and psychedelia, with album titles such as Clouds Taste Metallic, their 2009 note-for-note cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with Henry Rollins and the outright insanity that is their stage production, it almost appeared that the Flaming Lips were on a darker, more agonizing path with 2013’s release of The Terror.
But not one to dwell on any one thing, and after coming out of a Miley Cyrus whirldwind, the band returned to their off the wall roots and fantastical take on reality with Oczy Mlody, their 14th studio album named after an erroneous phrase in Polish, released earlier this year. Coyne has said that the band like the words because of their sound more than their translation.
Their 2017 tour in support of the album, which kicked off overseas in February, is themed after one of the tracks from the album: “There Should Be Unicorns.” Well, Wayne, your fans listened, and at the Fox Theater, there were several unicorns.
Before getting into the actual representations of unicorns that were present throughout the evening, on the stage, in the crowd or running along the walls of the room in and out of some drug-addled hallucination, another way to interpret a unicorn is a one-of-a-kind and majestic rarity. I found such a unicorn in the opening band, Klangstof.
Klangstof is a Dutch by-way-of Norway quartet that have taken their favorite pages from the playbooks of Sigur Rós, Explosions In The Sky and other similarly tight musical productions with the heavy lyrics and an inescapable tempo. Their 45-minute set was definitely worth arriving early for. Hopefully this tour with the Flaming Lips is not their last North American venture. Check them out below
The Flaming Lips took the stage around quarter after 9PM in quite anti-climatic fashion. Considering the mount of energy and noise that was about to surround the stage, however, perhaps it could be better described as the calm before the storm.
Let me put this out here now: there is nothing like a Flaming Lips show.
From time to time I was reminded of several longstanding and noteworthy acts. There were moments where I could have been at a Tame Impala show, or the String Cheese Incident at Electric Forest, or a super-sized take on the imagination of Kevin Barnes (of Montreal). But each of those examples, amazing and perfect at what they are, only scrape the surface of what Coyne and co. brought to the Fox Theater.
Overall, the show was heaviest in material from the bands’ triple album arc from 1999 through 2006. That is, The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and At War With The Mystics. The band dipped as far back as 1993 near the end of the show, and sprinkled Oczy Mlody generously throughout.
The set opened in epic fashion with confetti cannons, multitudes of over-sized balloons and Coyne sending off noisemakers and streamers into the front row during “Race For The Prize,” A quick clean-up between songs paved the way for a giant inflatable star, frog and catfish that danced around the stage during “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1.”
“There Should Be Unicorns” followed, and as the band got the tune going, Coyne was nowhere to be found on stage. Suddenly he appeared stage right atop a mechanical, neon-haired unicorn that drove around the lower tier of the GA Floor space, singing, engaging fans with hand-grabs and face palms of confetti, fulfilling a single lap at a snail’s pace.
The first of several costume changes, Coyne has mastered the art of making the most of his time on stage. Although he can be long-winded and meandering in his recollections of losing faith in inflatable rainbows, the crew he works with somehow manage to clear the space and have the next prop ready at the drop of a hat. One thing I would love to see is a glimpse into the behind-the-curtain frenzy that the Flaming Lips’ stagehands orchestrate.
For “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung,” the cloud machine was turned up to full power and an enormous gong was wheeled center stage, synchronized with the elaborate panel of LED lights that radiated and spiraled out with every strike of the hammer. “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)” saw Coyne once again engaging the crowd and encouraging a chorus of “yeah yeah yeah’s” from underneath an oversized silver cloak that resembled fire resistant or space-age fabrics while a bursting gif individually melded an eyeball, a vagina, and a galaxy that by the end of the song it would have been impossible to tell which was which.
“What Is the Light?” was a highlight of the visual effects as the song progressed through some sort of topographic flight simulation program before segueing with ease into its familiar pair of “The Observer” and the inflation of a stage-spanning rainbow.
One of the Flaming Lips’ most iconic stage tricks is the infamous hamster ball. For the show at the Fox, Coyne emerged on stage and serenaded the crowd with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from within the confines of this plastic bubble. Eventually, he rolled it right off the stage and onto the crowd. Check out footage of the song below.
Six more songs, including highlights “The W.A.N.D.,” “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton,” and “Silver Trembling Hands,” the lone track off 2009’s Embryonic, brought the set to a close just before 11PM. But the show still had some life, even following the encore of “She Don’t Use Jelly,” the band’s highest charting single in the US from 1993’s Transmissions From The Satellite Heart.
Coyne returned for a second encore, performing a stripped down and bare-bones rendition of “Waiting For A Superman” before the rest of the band joined him for the show closer, “Do You Realize??” to end the evening.