What a wonderful world: A night with the Flaming Lips

By Sam Robertson

All of my favorite live bands have one thing in common: they are able to capture a special magic live that they couldn’t replicate in the studio. Except for the Flaming Lips. Their music wasn’t any better live than it is in the studio. In fact, it’s probably a little better in the studio than it is live. Yet their show Sunday night at the Myth Theatre was undoubtedly one of the best shows that I’ve ever seen. How do they do it?The answer is that a Flaming Lips show is not a concert. It’s an experience. The music is still the focus of the show, but there is so much else going on that I’m convinced that one could hate the music but still love the show. Words can’t really do justice to the Flaming Lips experience, but try to imagine hundreds of balloons, thousands of laser pointers, a complex light show, an accompanying video, and of course, all the great music. But before the Flaming Lips could introduce us to their freak show, Black Moth Super Rainbow played an hour-long opening set.

The name Black Moth Super Rainbow just oozes psychedelia, and they did not disappoint in that regard. Their music was somewhat similar to the neo-psychedelia of the Flaming Lips but way more “out there.” With trippy keyboards and synthesizers layered over a heavy drum beat, Black Moth Super Rainbow used spacey electronic grooves to get the audience dancing. It was an interesting sound, but repetitive, and it made us all anxious for the Flaming Lips.

The Flaming Lips kicked off the show with an extravagant entrance. Front man Wayne Coyne emerged wearing a pair of giant hands and dancing around the stage, as the band opened with the ethereal instrumental “Ta Da!” In addition to Coyne and his giant hands were dancing people dressed up in alien and Santa Claus costumes on either side of the stage, as laser pointers, confetti, and balloons flew into the crowd. Was their entrance pretentious and over the top? Yeah, it probably was. But they surpassed my old definition of “over the top” by so much that I thought their entrance was just plain awesome.

The show got even crazier when the band launched into the more energetic “Race For the Prize” as Coyne continued to shoot confetti and throw or kick every balloon on the stage back into the dancing crowd. I’ve been to a lot of shows in my life, but I had never seen anything close to this before. It had only been two songs but the Flaming Lips had already transported me into their perfect, happy, psychedelic world.

After an opening like that, an energy let down seems natural, but I should’ve known better than to expect that from the Flaming Lips. They were only getting warmed up and both the music and the atmosphere only got better and better. The band focused mostly on material from their latest album, “At War With the Mystics,”and their most popular and critically successful album, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”

The crowd was for the most part young and seemed to be made up of almost all college students. And one way to fire up a crowd of college students – especially Mac students – is to sing about our country’s politics, and Coyne’s political ranting and raving was very well received. The political songs ranged from the angry “Free Radicals” to songs like the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Waitin’ for a Superman” that are disturbingly true commentaries on our love of power and blind confidence in a higher power. But despite the very depressing nature and themes of those songs, what the Flaming Lips are really about is hope. After playing those two songs that convinced us that the future is grim, the band burst into “The W.A.N.D.” with it’s triumphant chorus “You’ve got the power in there,” reminding the audience that it’s not too late to change the world, and that it’s us – the youth – who have the power to change it.

Wayne Coyne is able to balance his view that the world is doomed eventually with his belief that we have the power to control when that is. We won’t be around forever, but while we are around, we can make the world a good place. Nowhere is that view better demonstrated than in the song “Do You Realize?” which was the last song they played before coming out for two encores. Coyne comes to the bitter realization that everyone he knows will die sooner or later, but there’s no reason to worry and complain about that, it just means that we need to make the most out of the time we have. Coyne manages to make a depressing topic seem hopeful, and the sing along uplifted the entire crowd. After the Flaming Lips finished their encores, they left the stage while Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” blasted from the loudspeakers. It occurred to me that the band couldn’t have picked a more perfect song to represent them. The Flaming Lips are all about that carefree happiness and youthful enthusiasm that has stayed with them for their entire twenty year long career