The Flaming Lips, Explosions in the Sky, Stardeath & White Dwarfs
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Show Review by Adam Perry for Westword
Better Than: Anti-depressants
“Last night I had a horrible dream/ wakin’ up at Red Rocks made me feel it was gonna be a fucking joy-filled, awesome day”: That’s how bliss-charged Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne amended a song from his band’s forthcoming album Embryonic last night at Red Rocks. And when he wasn’t banging on a glowing electronic gong or proclaiming “we got the power now, motherfuckers/ it’s where it belongs” in a song that used to be about George W. Bush, Coyne was simply smiling and begging for audience participation, which he received en masse from a near-sellout crowd that left fulfilled…and covered in confetti.
“I took you to your first Dead show, your first Springsteen show, and now your first Flaming Lips show,” a middle-aged man told his son while walking the picturesque stairway out of Red Rocks late Sunday evening, still high on the infectious energy of arguably America’s most entertaining rock band. Wonder what took the man so long – the Grammy-winning Oklahoma band has been around since 1983 and is only getting better with each grey hair.
The Beatles played Red Rocks in 1964; the Grateful Dead played there twenty-some times over the years; and countless talented and engaging performers have graced the naturally beautiful venue in Morrison since it opened in 1941, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an audience as inspired and satisfied as the one that left the mountain-side venue last night humming Coyne’s final question “do you realize that happiness makes you cry?”
As a young[er]expectant parent, seeing the expression on Coyne’s face from feet away as he stood inside an inflated, transparent ball and made his way into the delighted, multi-generational crowd Sunday was enough to give me faith in a world where there will continue to be profound and celebratory (but not-at-all musically-empty) rock concerts to take my daughter to. Coyne’s man-inside-a-ball entrance, which led to the irreverent bounce of “Race for the Prize” (from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin) coincided with his space-rock band’s habit of flanking themselves with dozens of exuberant dancers dressed in stuffed-animal costumes.
The sheer bigness of the show, without the use of elaborate lighting (if you don’t count the band’s demand that the audience cover Coyne and the stage with laser-pointed red dots) or pyrotechnical musicianship (there were no guitar solos and drummer Kliph Scurlock plays a John Bonham-style kit with two cymbals) was a testament to not only the enthusiasm and energy of the Flaming Lips and their fans but to the band’s intelligently wacky and uplifting songs, whose power and meaning only seem to grow with time.
The Lips’ hour-and-a-half set at Red Rocks included only a few tunes from their highly-anticipated new Ummagumma-worthy double album Embryonic – one accompanied by a video of Scurlock lip-synching the entire song while brushing his teeth and one preceded by a plea from Coyne that the audience “scream as if your human instincts have taken over” – but it was the classic Lips that were enough to make your heart grow three sizes in one night. “Fight Test” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” were morphed into mellow, quasi-accappella sing-alongs sans drums; “the Yeah Yeah Yeah” song and “The W.A.N.D.” took on new relevance with Obama in office; and “She Don’t Use Jelly” (preceded by a clip of a young Jon Stewart introducing the Flaming Lips on MTV in 1993) jubilantly connected the band with the vocal Red Rocks crowd, which included everyone from infants in slings to grandparents.
But it was “Do You Realize??” (which was made the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma earlier this year) that proved the proverbial icing – if only Coyne and Co. could personally perform that song for every human being about once a week, we’d probably have world peace, even without the giant dancing caterpillars and puppy dogs.
Personal Bias: I had never been to Red Rocks or seen the Flaming Lips before; it’s quite possible the combination might have caused spontaneous implosion, and thus this review could be written from the after-life. We may never know.
Random Detail: To those who bought tickets online, the Flaming Lips gave away not only a three-song sampling from Embryonic and a collection of b-sides, but also a high-quality recording of last night’s entire concert.
By The Way: Instrumental post-rock sensations Explosions in the Sky opened (I missed the opening opening band Stardeath & the White Dwarfs) and were equal parts captivating and monotonous. A friend once compared their wall-of-sound performances to those 3-D paintings where a million seemingly-identical images make one unique and attractive picture, and that’s pretty spot-on. It’s difficult to tell one Explosions in the Sky song from the next; one can imagine the non-plussed look on drummer Chris Hrasky’s face if one of the band’s three guitarists turned to him onstage and said “dude, let’s play that one that starts real slow and quiet and builds into a firestorm of loud music and compels us to jump around.” But what they do is compelling, attention-commanding, and indeed explosive. They’ll be headlining Red Rocks someday.