The Flaming Lips
By: Greggory Moore
There is this dumb picture you take at a Flaming Lips show, before you know better, before you figure out that it's stupid to pay attention to this tiny smartphone screen when there's all this incredible shit going on around you. I guess it's that you want to commemorate the trip you're on, and you pose with the stage as your backdrop. You're dumb, because a) the glorious stage comes out looking tiny and like crap, and b) when you face the stage, the bombardment of color bathing your face would have been cool, dipshit.
Doesn't matter, because it was all about immersion in the moment, the thing that makes a Flaming Lips concert an experience.
But it's fair to say the Flaming Lips experience at the Pacific Amphitheater Wednesday (ticket got you free Orange County Fair admission–and a ride afterward on the kick-ass Ferris wheel!) was less of one than usual, shorter and tamer than what devotees have come to expect. Hey, when you raise the bar as high as dancing rabbits, sequences from Battle Royale and strange Japanese gameshows, and spacetime-portal-bending doorways, some days you're only way forward is under.
There was still trip-py stage lighting and lasers, lots of glitter and confetti, and Wayne telling us how much the band loved us. But there was nary a beachball in sight, and what few video projections there were had a “seen it before” feel for Flaming Lips-concertgoing veterans. It didn't help that the setlist was both quite short (a dozen songs, at most) and rarely included anything that was upbeat all the way through.
Everyone's favorite Oklahomans opted for “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21” but not “Yoshimii Battles the Pink Robots”, “All We Have Is Now” but not “Free Radicals” or “She Don't Use Jelly.” “Race for the Prize” and “Do You Realize??” were played in second gear, the former eschewing drums until the final refrain, the latter completely. “The W.A.N.D.” was the only real rocker.
If you'd never been to a Flaming Lips show, you were blown away nonetheless. And there was an extra kick thrown in for locals who got to watch The Growlers open up for them–a huge deal for OC's strange, surf rock darlings. But initiates walked away telling stories about the Yoshimii tour or seeing Dark Side of the Moon at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had to admit, though, that the tunes from The Terror, the Flaming Lips' new album, sounded fantastic, continuing down the Embryonic road. No doubt we'll see them again next time they come through. Not at a fair, though, because the set's just too damn short. Yeah, we'll miss the Ferris wheel, but we'll do well to skip that deep-fried maple bacon donut.
Critical Bias: Love the Lips. No band this side of the Velvet Underground has traveled so far down their own path, one that includes unparalleled live performance.
Overheard: Wayne's asking how everyone was doing. “Can't complain!” half-screamed someone nearby. No one ever uttered that phrase with so much excitement.
The Crowd: From the wafting clouds, it's safe to say that the crowd was marijuana-friendly. In fact, they were friendly, period, and amped up enough that Wayne commented that it seemed like a Saturday night, rather than a night before a workday.
Random Notebook Dump: At some point during the set a fireworks display was going off on the fairgrounds. “Shit's blowing up over there,” Wayne said, pointing. “Perfect.”