The Flaming Lips brought their traveling psychedelic party to Bethlehem on Friday night, officially kicking off the 10-day festival on the big stage on the South Side. (Duran Duran had played the night before as part of a “preview night” – so maybe the Lips were sloppy seconds?) Singer Wayne Coyne preached all about the joys of Love, Drugs, and Rock and Roll throughout the course of 1 ½ hours of music and celebration.
The music started almost quietly as the Flaming Lips worked their way through the opening chords of “The Abandoned Hospital Ship.” The quiet beginning was offset by the visuals and theatrics of the rainbows and mushrooms that danced on the stage behind Coyne. Before long, the band fully pushed hard into the song, bringing the sonic levels up to equal those of the visuals onstage. The song continued as the crowd danced and celebrated through the confetti showers and balloon balls being constantly launched at them from the stage.
This interplay between the spectacle of a Flaming Lips concert and the music continued throughout the night. For many people, particularly the casual fan, the sights of the Lips’ shows define who they are as a band. This is unfortunate, because their music and songs really are stellar, and the entire band is a powerful group of musicians capable of conveying a huge range of dynamics and emotions. Having said that, it’s hard not to get caught up in the spectacle, which is all well and good; the sights and sound work well together to create a truly unique experience that not many bands still achieve in this day and age.
A revolving door of inflatable characters (suns, caterpillars, aliens, etc.) and props (a swinging light bulb on a cord, a giant “FUCK YEAH BETHLEHEM” mylar balloon, etc.) kept the crowd engaged even on the more spacy numbers, such as “Flight Test” and “Pompeii Am Gotterdamnerung.” The (far less than capacity) crowd was thrilled to hear favorites such as “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power).”
Coyne engaged with the crowd quite a bit, both physically – launching confetti cannons and rolling out across the audience in his trademark hamster ball – and verbally as well. He seemed genuinely appreciative of the fans and their energy. At one point, he even got a little profound as he talked about those people in the audience who were there at the show, despite the fact that they were experiencing trauma and pain in their lives. He thanked the audience as a whole for helping to heal those lost souls, even just for a short time while they were there together. Interspersed with the serious words was a constant encouragement of hardy partying, which matched the psychedelic atmosphere the band worked toward all night.
This all led up to the concluding song of the main set, “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” which ended with the word “LOVE” flashing across the giant LCD backdrop of the stage. The crowd chanted along with Coyne and the rest of the Flaming Lips, doing their best to cause a cosmic disturbance as Coyne requested. The communal singalong continued with the encore “Do You Realize?”
The band played a stellar show, and as I ran into a couple friends on the way out of the concert, both of them said that the show was a pretty amazing experience. I’m not sure if they’re quite ready to run out and buy the full catalog of Flaming Lips albums, but I am pretty sure they’re going to run out and buy tickets the next time the band is in the area. The spectacle is worth it, even for those not quite ready for the music.