We're caught up with the notion that Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus is a musical genius. But since the release of Flyo's latest album, "You're Dead!" Ellison has become regarded with even more praise, as he's infused even more jazz, psychedelic, and cinematic influences into his layers of hip-hop and atmospheric beats to create a concept album with an elaborate narrative of the afterlife.
Ellison has developed his latest creation into an interactive audio-visual 3D stage show to complete his vision, and the result is an incredible, mystifying experience that resonates long after its over. He brought this ultra-sensory installation to a sold out show at the Observatory last night, supported by the equally talented Thundercat, but took the stage on his own to take audiences on a journey across the unknown.
The evening began with two DJ's feeding the audience with beats for two respective half hour sets to butter up the crowd, right before Thundercat came onstage. Decked out in a hoodie, sweatpants and a Revolutionary War-esque jacket, he laid into mellow openers of "For Love" and "Daylight" accompanied by his keyboard player and drummer, who matched the intensity of his bass as he broke into his heavy solos. "I don't even know what fucking city I'm in," he jokingly mentioned to the crowd. Gradually the heavy jazz/R&B fusion kicked into more uptempo songs. Thundercat later played the Adventure Time theme in tears, a nod to fallen friend Austin Peralta.
Flying Lotus came onstage shortly after in a black suit and tie, speaking in front of screaming fans. "Now I'm nervous," he quipped. He walked between the two screens set up on stage to a podium where his laptop and MPD32 were waiting, where he continued speaking a monologue, concluding with the two key words: "You're dead!"
As the 3D show began, the screens burst to life with animation by Shintaro Kago and Philip Askins, backed by the "Theme" from You're Dead! Wearing a mask with lit-up goggles that pierced through the screen, he resembled a conductor commanding the audio-visual spectacle like a sorcerer manipulating spirits with his magic. And the visuals and music matched up perfectly; the soft beats mixed with lush, pastoral sounds in the song "Turtles" aligned with projections of soothing, calm blue spirals and waves, while heavier, darker tones from "Coronus The Terminator" were met with spiraling, swirling shapes and deep reds. Wave after wave of portals, vortexes, shapes, supernovas and celestial images moved across the screen, all the while Ellison moved about in a theatrical manner, probably not unlike the Phantom of the Opera playing a demented tune.
Ellison also broke into Captain Murphy mode, taking the mic and emerging from behind the screen to rap directly to the crowd, sending everyone off in a frenzy. At one point he introduced Earl Sweatshirt, before quickly adding, "Just kidding!" He returned to his post to load more heavy beats, and finished the night with an encore of "Do the Astral Plane."
This show only confirms Ellison's skill as a storyteller. With the conceptual thesis of his album, "You're Dead!" the elaborate visuals of his live show and the layered mix of beats, jazz instrumentals and rap, Ellison has elevated the concert-going experience; he's not just Flying Lotus anymore, but Charon leading us across the River Styx, across a sonic and visual odyssey to understand the layers of complexity of the afterlife, and to explore what's beyond our perceived notions of heaven and hell, purgatory, and the beyond in general.
In other words: I'm Dead!
Critic's Bias: I was expecting musical guests, but the show was still amazing.
The Crowd: Mostly hip hop heads, some hipsters, and a surprising amount of suburban teenagers.
Overheard: "I have a lab report due tomorrow morning and I haven't event started it." Probably the most commonly uttered phrase at a concert.
Random Notebook Dump: FlyLo loves the Mexicans! "One thing I love about Southern California… is all the Mexicans." Love you, too.