As I stood waiting for The Flaming Lips to come onstage, I couldn't help but feel that I was part of something bigger -- cliche as that sounds -- something that had happened before in the past, and was going to repeat again tonight. And the next night, since the band was booked back-to-back at the beautiful and spacious Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.
I had heard, of course, of the confetti, the balloons
, the plastic hamster ball, the giant laser hands. But as it often goes with things like this, everything is better and more profound in person.
The Flaming Lips were joined by two opening acts: freak-rocker Ariel Pink (boring performance, no further comment necessary) and Thee Oh Sees, whose lead singer was quite possibly the worst dancer I've ever witnessed on stage. No, really.
As I glanced around the crowd, contemplating things like what it would be like to control lighting during a show, I noticed that everyone had the same contorted grimace of disapproval on their face. How Thee Oh Sees snagged the honor of performing with the Lips I will never know.
By the time the Lips came onstage with their all-orange equipment glory, I was ready to be moved. For starters, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the light show/video backdrop and the sheer production of the entire event. Confetti was bombed into the crowd with every third beat as the legendary lead singer Wayne Coyne rolled effortlessly over the crowd, encased in his hamster ball. Coyne performed like a Dr. Seuss character; orchestrating one bizarre twist after another while throngs of dancers clad in orange jumpsuits, sunglasses, and pink wigs gyrated on the side of the stage to his voice.
The entire experience reminded me of a scene out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 film), when Willy Wonka introduces the kids to his psychedelic wonderland. To further illustrate how it feels to be at a Flaming Lips performance, I want you to also imagine the light show from the Disney Electronic Parade. Be sure to include stoned hipsters, middle-aged men with their pre-teen kids, and a genuine feeling of chaos and amazement to the mix. If you've been to a Lips performance, you know what I'm talking about.
The music is obviously another one of the major reasons for attending a Lips show; it definitely adds to the sheer magnitude of the band's performance. With a plastic bubble around the mouth of his guitar (distorting the sound to an eerie echo) Coyne belted out acoustic versions of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "Do You Realize??" to the delight of the crowd.
I have to acknowledge that The Flaming Lips have been making music since before I was born. Coyne is 49-years-young, performing like he's a 20-something rock legend. It's truly something to see Coyne's genius at work, his love and genuine enthusiasm floating over the crowd like the confetti he loves so dearly.