Spectacle! Spectacle! Spectacle! Not in the Debordian sense, but rather in a dazzling display of sight and sound orchestrated by The Flaming Lips at The Oakdale Theatre on July 15th.
A show that was in jeopardy several times, The Flaming Lips and Spiritualized, collectively, put on a show for the ages, but not without some help. Originally slated for the Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows, the show was cancelled due to an issue of “staffing”. First Selectwoman Mary Glassman said “the issue came down to staffing, and that it would have been difficult to get the necessary police officers in place for the concert…”. Not according to front man Wayne Coyne who praised the promoters, Manic Productions, Premier Concerts, and The Bushnell, who stepped in to save the show. “Some conservative individuals thought we were too radical but we tried to assure them that we come in peace, man. Our music is about love!”
There was plenty of love from the crowd even before Coyne and company took the stage. British shoegazing space rockers Spiritualized opened the evening drenched in moody red and blue lights and shrouded in smoke. The enigmatic Jason Pierce, better known as Jason or simply J. Spaceman, sat stoically with his telecaster on one knee in front of a music stand as he strummed and sang his way through what felt like a “best of…” set. Cuts from albums including Lazer Guided Melodies, Pure Phase, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, Amazing Grace, and their latest release Sweet Heart Sweet Light were rolled out during their 60+ minute set. Donning dark Ray Ban Aviator shades, Spaceman led the group like a modern day Humphrey Bogart character from a hard-boiled noir film. Of course, Film Noir never employed so many strobes and lasers as had the boys from Rugby, Warwickshire. In quintessential Jason Spaceman fashion, there were absolutely no words spoken to the crowd during the entire performance, only a heartfelt wave to the crowd as they exited as if to say in genuine fashion, “thank you”.
After a brief intermission and an enormous undertaking to assemble the elaborate set that became The Flaming Lips mise-en-scène for the evening, the lights dimmed and the crowd roared in anticipation. They were greeted by a silhouetted figure atop a massive platform built from mirrored half-domes, which were entwined with what looked almost like sinuous human fibers. Another individual ran out from stage left carrying an infant in his arms and handed the child over to Coyne perched upon the apex of the mirrored mountain. The messenger also delivered a prophetic monologue in Spanish, which I do not speak, something regarding the end of the world or space or maybe both??? As he gestured to Coyne, the synth loop for Look…The Sun Is Rising took hold and shook the crowd into a state of frenzy. Then the measured bass line and heavy drums fortified the chest rattling rhythm. Next came the manually manipulated FM synthesis samples. Finally, Coyne threw his right arm toward the sky, still cradling the infant in his left arm, and sang:
“There’s a little spaceship…Hiding in the clouds…You want it to love you…Its peaceful voice is loud.”
All of those along for the intergalactic journey were returned to Earth only after The Flaming Lips had probed and challenged their perceptual limits.
The spectacle was indeed stunning. Highly sophisticated lighting, piercing lasers, and an enormous net of LEDs animating everything from rainbows to vulvas, all seared into the audiences collective visual cortex. Yes you read that last bit correctly, and if you’re already a fan of the Lips you shouldn’t be surprised. Especially given the cover art for their album Embryonic, or tracks such as You Lust and Turning Violent, both off of The Terror, their heavily experimental foil to pop albums like 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and 2006’s At War With the Mystics. What’s become infinitely fascinating to me is watching Wayne Coyne, now 52, continually reinvent himself while remaining true to his flower power love conquers all roots. In many ways, he’s become a space age, tech savvy, hippie of yesteryear, today, tomorrow, and beyond, mapping his evolution in words, music, and of course the live theater that is a Flaming Lips concert.
Here It Comes
Let It Flow
The Morning After
She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)
Headin’ for the Top Now
Take Your Time
Look…The Sun Is Rising
Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast
Silver Trembling Hands
Try to Explain
Race for the Prize
Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die
All We Have Is Now
Gates of Steel
A Spoonful Weighs a Ton
Do You Realize??
Always There, In Our Hearts