This is not a review. At least, it's not a review in the traditional sense. There will be no set list, no critique of the band's musicianship, and no criticism at all, really. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, The Flaming Lips are, for me, one of those bands who just can't do much wrong. I am so blinded by love for the band that anything I write about their performance on July 4th would be as skewed as if I was Wayne Coyne's mother and I was reviewing his second grade play. Secondly, part of the fun of seeing this band is that you never really know what they are going to do ahead of time, with the exception of a few common knowledge tropes. Knowing that, it would be mean to spoil all the surprises. Finally, for all of the showmanship that is evident at any Lips show, it never feels like you are sitting in a crowd, waiting to be entertained. It feels like you have been invited to the best surprise party you could imagine, only to show up and find out that the party is in your honor, and the people throwing it love you and want to see you live a great life. While reviewing such a party would be tacky and pointless, writing a heartfelt thank you letter never is. And, since I was raised with manners, what follows is a sort of love letter to the Flaming Lips in general and Wayne Coyne in particular.
For many people I have spoken to, seeing the Flaming Lips live is unlike anything else one could experience in their adult lives, and last night's show was no exception. For me, summer holidays have always reminded me of the best part of being a kid. In the summertime, the rules were looser, there was swimming and junk food and giggling and running around like maniacs in the heat and humidity of July nights with out a shred of the self conscious editing and posturing that would come with adolescence and adulthood. It seemed like every summer from ages to 5 to 12 was just one long giggling, singing, spinning freak out and I often miss those days intensely, as I'm sure most adults do. It often feels like every year that passes takes us further and further away from that feeling of freedom as we become more bitter, more aware and more tired. We try to recapture some of that every time we see a show, or meet with friends, or meditate or create, but it can be difficult tune out the interference of our adult consciousness and fully be in any given moment. Even on this July 4th, at the sea shore no less, the general sense in the air was not one of celebration and freedom. A sense of foreboding hung in the air around the boardwalk. The casinos and amusement piers seemed to house thousands of people who were just not smiling as they wandered from distraction to distraction. This was not the case inside the House of Blues.
Inside the venue last night, two floors above what was once a mecca of innocent summer excitement, the mood was more enthusiastic and carnival like than on any pier below as thousands of fans gathered to wait for the Flaming Lips to take the stage. People milled around in summer clothes and elaborate costumes, ranging from an angel with light up hair to Captain America in knee high boots. I shuffled nervously from foot to foot, hugged my boyfriend, grinned at him and squeaked with excitement. Around us, people were doing exactly the same. There was no uncomfortable pre-show posturing, or extensive shows of coolness. The mood was simply gleefull and anticipatory. It was a lot like waiting all those years ago for the neighborhood fireworks to begin.
Once the house lights finally went down, and the stage was filled with orange clad roadies and dancers, that buzz because something akin to a high pitched wail. Once the background film began to play and the band began to emerge, that wail took on what seemed like a life of it's own. Finally, once Wayne Coyne himself appeared, inside his famed hamster ball and counted to three before hurling himself off the stage and onto the crowd, there was an all out explosion of screams. The hamster ball is something I have experienced before, but, at 5'4, I have always been too short to really get near it. This time, however, there was one brief moment where I looked up and there he was, inside a giant bubble and laughing hysterically while looking down at me. This is the exact moment that I actually regressed several years into a screaming, jumping, giggling 12 year old. I would stay like this for the next 2 hours as it rained confetti on my head while The Lips played everything I wanted to hear.
Without giving away the set list or revealing too many of the surprises in the show, I will say that this band is a master of the roller coaster ride set. The songs go from mellow to wild, serious to silly and angry to gleeful over and over again. What is amazing about this is that the show never looses its air of whimsical excitement or frenzied happiness. Even when he is singing about death, Coyne makes you feel like you are celebrating life. And he does so by inviting you to relive the feeling of the best parts of life. In fact, if he gets the sense that the crowd is holding back for whatever reason, he will not hesitate to stop singing, jump up and down and laughingly implore the crowd with a hearty “come on motherfuckers, come on!” The effect of this is that one feels, while participating in the show, as though they really are partying with their closest friends, and that this party is exactly the sort of night one lives for.
This feeling of closeness is compounded by Coyne's speeches, which he sprinkles liberally throughout the set. Ranging in main topic from political hope to war torn sadness, to the beauty of “Mr. Tuna”'s costume, these speeches serve to remind us all that this band isn't just running through a prepackaged and overly rehearsed set and their elaborate props and lighting shows are not their to marginalize their fans. Quite the opposite is true. From inflatable robots to confetti filled balloons and giant hamster balls, the Flaming Lips use their props as if they were gifts to the crowd who then, as Coyne pointed out “act like they are magic balls...and diamonds shot from the ass of a dragon.” According to Coyne, this is what it is all about. An invitation to a silly party where everyone is finding the magic in everyday shit. A balloon is just a balloon and confetti is just shredded paper, but when 1,000 people all agree to get really excited about them, they become something much more than that. They, and all of the Lips live show, are a reminder that the world could end in a minute, death is imminent for everyone and things are totally fucked up everywhere, but we have the power to transcend our fears and anxieties, if only just for a while, and reclaim our freedom to freak out, have fun, squeal and giggle and sing along with strangers.
It is this sort of reminder, and the feeling of freedom that comes along with it, that everyone deserves on the 4th of July (or any day really). The reminder that ideological clashes and political strife may have removed us from the knowledge that we are free to pursue happiness, and that we may be older, more aware, and no longer so willing to just let go in the summertime heat, but that we can reclaim that on an individual basis. We have the freedom to all be rambunctious little freaks and when we do so, and invite others along with us, we are truly living in the face of death. That, motherfuckers, is the best kind of freedom of all, and I am eternally grateful to have experienced it.
-Shannon (Who Won't Let Those Robots Eat You)