The Flaming Lips

Oh March 12, 2010, The Flaming Lips played at Austin Music Hall.  This show is on my “top 5 events of my life and stuff I’ll probably reflect on when I’m dying” list.  It was incredible.

I have pages of stuff to say about it, but I’m trying to keep my blog posts smaller than a certain size.  I’m not sure what that size is, but this is too big.  I’m sorry, there’s just so much to say I don’t want to cut anything out.  This post is my description of the band’s show, omitting the comments about the venue, the pre-show, the warmup band, and the transition.  That’ll all get described over the next week.  I’ve never been to a concert that would take pages to describe.

The Prerequisites

Here’s a summary of some stuff that the omissions will mention and describe but are relevant to the show:

  • Either the acoustics in AMH suck, the band was playing too loud, or a combination of both.
  • I had an awesome position with a clear view of the stage.
  • The band set up their own instruments, so we got to see them and start the crowd interaction about 20 minutes before they actually started playing.
  • Laser pointers were handed out shortly before the show, with the promise that it was part of “an interactive show”.
  • The lighting rig included a backdrop that could be transparent *or* a video display.  There was a camera mounted on Wayne’s microphone with some video filters that made it look like they were recording an 80’s video.
  • I can’t remember the set list perfectly; if I say, “I think x was next” it means, “There may have been a song before it where nothing really notable happened”.
  • I haven’t bought Embryonic yet so I won’t recognize or know the title of any songs from it.
  • “Something notable” in a concert like this is not only a common occurrence, but makes almost every other show you could attend seem as exciting as a checkout line.

Now you’re up to speed on some stuff I didn’t feel like explaining in detail in two places.

The Show

If you’re an avid TFL fan and have been to one of their concerts, there’s probably no surprises here.  If you’re an avid fan, you probably have an idea what the show was like.  It’s so much cooler to experience it than it is to watch videos of it.  I’ll walk through what I remember of the show as accurately as possible (I wish I’d had something to type notes on!), then try to piece together a set list.

The show started with this weird dude that looked like a hobo who came out and read what I guess was a poem.  I didn’t understand it, partially because it was hard to hear him and partially because it sounded like it was one of those poems you are supposed to sit and think about.  He left, and Wayne made it clear he was going to do the hamster ball crowd surfing thing and made sure the mosh pit was well aware that they might want to secure their drinks.  After informing the mosh pit to stay alert, he left and some sound effects I recognized as the ones from the opening of Time Travel… Yes! started playing.  (I might have got the hobo/Wayne speech out of order.)

Some of the things I am about to describe are very strange. I promise I am not exaggerating anything.  If I can’t remember something clearly, I’m either not going to type it or say “I don’t remember”, so don’t assume I can’t remember so I’m using hyperbole.

The backdrop started a video of a nude woman walking around with some psychedelic filters over it.  Soon, her genitals started glowing and I was reminded of Old Gregg’s “mangina”.  As if this weren’t absurd enough, soon Miss Glowing Genitals sat down and assumed the birthing position.  This is when we discovered the video rig could be opened like a door.  One by one, the band members who weren’t Wayne emerged from the giant flashing vagina.  (It sounds a lot more gross than it was.  It was more like a large, football-shaped solid color portal than something from the pages of Hustler.)  Of course, after this Wayne’s crowdsurfing ball inflated and he started the walk around the audience.  I believe this sequence heavy with birthing imagery is meant to tie in to the new album, Embryonic.  Good thing I took all those literature classes, right?

Then the confetti starts.  On both sides of the stage, there were machines that blast confetti out and fans to blow it into the audience.  Lots of confetti; it was usually 30 second long blasts at a time.  There were lots of fog machines, lots of spots, a giant disco ball (if it were truly a ball it’d probably have an 18-foot diameter!), and lots of dancers in the wings dressed like DJ Lance.  We’re about 5 minutes into the show, 20 seconds into the first song, and my mind is already completely blown.  This is just the beginning.

I didn’t recognize the song they played while Wayne was surfing the crowd in his inflatable hamster ball (I guess it’s an embryonic sac in this interpretation).  It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t put a title to it.  After some crowdsurfing, Wayne returned to the stage and climbed out of his ball.  I didn’t recognize the next song either, but it was pretty good.  This is when the balloons were released.  There were between a dozen and 15 balloons, all about 2 feet in diameter kicked out into the crowd.  You’ve seen beach balls at concerts before; this was kind of the same.  Except these are *huge*, confetti is being blasted everywhere, there’s fog everywhere, there’s strobe lights, naked lady is still dancing on the video screen, the band is playing, and laser pointers are following the balloons everywhere.  I started taking pictures every few minutes because after trying to look at everything for a while my mind kind of overloaded and I had to look at something else for a minute.  2 songs in and my mind has been blown twice.  This pattern continued.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power) was next.  They had some custom video for this song, and the lighting strategy changed a little bit.  At some point during the song, some new actors joined the DJ Lance crew in the wings; on stage right it was a man dressed up like a star or the sun and on stage left it was a giant walking catfish dressed like a sailor.  There’s still balloons, fog, confetti, and lasers everywhere.  I seriously would not have been angry if the show ended here, even if the tickets were double.

After this Wayne asked everyone to pop the balloons.  I was kind of sad, but he promised that there was a reason.  With the balloons popped, he told everyone to get the laser pointers ready.  In particular, he said if we were afraid to point them at him he wanted as many people as possible to do so, and that there’d be a part of the next song where he really wanted us to let him have it.  The song was either Vein of Stars or In the Morning of the Magicians; I can’t remember exactly which one.  The lights were very dim, and the video backdrop was a “space” scene with stars.  In the middle of the song, the screen said “Get your lasers ready!”, then counted down as the lights were killed.  It turns out Wayne had a big mirror, and as we all pointed the lasers at it the fog picked up and the result was like being inside the UPC scanner at a supermarket.  Incredible.  I tried and failed to get a picture of it, but it was one of the more beautiful parts of the show.  4 songs, 3 mind-blowing moments.

I think the next song was Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1. Wayne claimed this was his first time playing acoustic on stage.  Steven seemed surprised but confirmed this after the song.  I find it hard to believe but I guess it could be true.  It was sing-along, and Wayne claimed we screwed him up and he had to start over in the middle of the first verse.  From there, it was still sing-along but his vocals were much more prominent.  It was a great performance of a great song.  In the 2nd verse, Steven started echoing Wayne’s lyrics through a megaphone; it caught Wayne off guard and for a minute I thought he was going to get the giggles and have to stop singing.

From here, my chronological order is almost completely screwed up.  Everything I say past here could have happened in just about any order unless I specifically say “x happened, then y”.

Remember when I couldn’t decide if Vein of Stars or In the Morning of the Magicians was played?  The other one was played at some point.  At one point, I remember seeing Wayne grab a particularly large balloon (this one was more like 3 1/2 feet in diameter), place it on the stage, then lay on it to pop it.  It looked like it would have hurt to hit the stage after that!

An awesome song was played that I didn’t recognize, Wayne told the band “play ??? the Leaves!” before it.  In this song, he had a big cymbal he was hitting and naked lady made an appearance again; she hit a cymbal in the video in time with him.  This song was incredible and probably one of the best songs they played.  I think as this song wound down, the band started playing solos and Wayne left the stage and reappeared at the back of the mosh pit, where he put on these giant foam hands that I’d spotted early in the show and wondered what they were for.  They were LASER HANDS.  Lots of green lasers were emitted, and looked really awesome.  Apparently he had trouble getting them to work, and they promised him he’d get to make up for it with his “psychedelic light wheel”.  This was a gong surrounded by some kind of weird sparkly LED light thing that the warmup band also used but you haven’t read that yet.  The song was Pompeii am Götterdämmerung, the lights were tinted red, the video looked like lava raining down, and there was so much fog and strobes that sometimes I really couldn’t see the stage.

At some point, Wayne said the next song was one they said they’d play every show until “the stupid war started by George W. Bush” is over.  We got a speech about the virtues of peace, and while I’m conditioned to treat such things as “hippy stuff” everything said was heartfelt and true.  Then he played Taps (though it seems like the trumpet used played itself) and this was followed by The W.A.N.D. I’m not sure if he meant for Taps or The W.A.N.D. to be the song they stop playing, but it’d be a shame if they quit playing The W.A.N.D. so I guess I hope they meant Taps.

Waitin’ for a Superman is probably one of my least favorite TFL songs; I should write a post on why.  I knew they were going to play it because I heard the sound crew fiddling with it while I was in line.  Before they played it, Wayne talked about a Mark Linkous, a member of Sparklehorse who recently committed suicide.  Apparently Wayne and Mark were pretty close, because even from 50 yards away I could tell it was an emotional speech.  Waitin’ For a Superman was dedicated to Mark Linkous.  I could tell by Wayne’s face that this was the only song of the night that wasn’t played for the crowd; this song was played for Wayne.  I enjoyed Waitin’ for a Superman for Mark Linkous on this night.  Now the song has a powerful memory attached to it, and I think I’ll enjoy it more in the future.

I think The W.A.N.D. was the “last” song, though the encore is such a tradition I don’t think it really holds much meaning anymore.  The first encore song was She Don’t Use Jelly, and the video backdrop was the music video for the song.  It was great to see this in concert, though I’m not sure how much the band enjoys it:

Wayne: Hey Steven, you play this every night don’t you?

Steven: Yep.

It’s probably true.  That’s the shame about big hits; I imagine eventually the band gets tired of playing it.

The next encore song was incredible, but I don’t recognize it at all.  Wayne said the name of it, but what I heard was “???ted ??? the ?ex”.  I eventually decided it was either “Addicted to Sex” or “Convinced of the Hex”, but had never heard the song so I couldn’t tell which was right.  The song was really good.  Naked lady made her final appearance of the night for this one.

I think it was during that song that Wayne pulled out a leaf blower from who knows where that had one of the big balloons attached to it with confetti inside; he then proceeded to use the leaf blower to inflate the balloon bigger and bigger until it popped and sprayed confetti everywhere; this took more than a minute and the balloon was huge by the end.  Neat!

I was just thinking to myself, “Man, this was incredible, but it would have been even better if they played Do You Realize?“  Well, that was the final song of the night.  I knew what it was as soon as the countdown began, and the performance was incredible.  I think the confetti blasters ran for the entire song.  Wayne had confetti/streamer guns he shot into the audience.  A few last balloons made the rounds.  After the song was “finished”, the lights dimmed and the band played a slower, quieter version of the final chorus.  It was the perfect ending to an incredible show.

Set List

I didn’t tweet the set list for this concert like I did for the CAKE concert.  This is mostly because my phone’s battery was nearly dead and the phone was the only camera I had so I was saving it for that, but also because I couldn’t peel my eyes off the stage.  This forum post has a set list, and I don’t have any contest with it.  I’m not going back through this post and replacing “I don’t know what the song was” with songs from this list because everything above here is just a braindump of what I remember of the experience.  Anyway, here’s the set list according to someone else:

  • Worm Mountain
  • Silver Trembling Hands
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
  • Vein of Stars
  • Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1
  • In the Morning of the Magicians
  • See the Leaves
  • Pompeii
  • Waiting for a Superman
  • Taps
  • The WAND
  • She Don’t Use Jelly
  • Convinced of the Hex
  • Do You Realize

I feel like there’s one song missing from this list.  I rearranged in two places. I remember the video backdrop for In the Morning of the Magicians was not the starfield, it’s hard to describe what it was. The balloons were already popped when this song was played, so Vein of Stars had to come first because it’s when the balloons were popped.  The forums list had Taps, Waitin’ for a Superman, and The W.A.N.D. in the wrong order.

The Opinion

This was hands down the best concert I have ever attended, and is etched onto the list of things I will remember forever.  The Flaming Lips did everything in their power to get the audience involved in the show.  They seemed to really like playing in Austin, though that could be the normal artist flattering the audience chatter it felt genuine.  The set was at times overwhelming.  Their heavy use of the soundboard to recreate the studio sound takes some of the fun out of hearing a song live, but all of the things happening on stage more than make up for this.  Some bands play through their songs but you get kind of bored because they wear out their repertoire of tricks/props and start repeating stuff.  Every song in this show had a unique backdrop and lighting setup, and almost every song had some unique prop or behavior of the band that made you feel like the song was part of a bigger performance.  Tickets were $35 and I feel like I stole something.  I feel like I paid for tickets to watch a filming of America’s Funniest Home Videos and instead I got a performance of Cirque du Soleil; it’s hard to believe that you can get a show of this quality for that price.  I think every show I attend will be diminished after experiencing this.  This is why I wrote such a monster of a post; I’m sorry for how big it is but I am just so excited that I experienced this I couldn’t bring myself to leave any details out.

Are there songs I wish they played?  Yep.  I’m listining to my TFL playlist right now and I’ve heard at least 10 I wish I’d heard.  But I own 6 albums and they’ve made 13, not counting bonus tracks and collaborations; I think they’d collapse of fatigue if I could force them to play the kind of setlist I’d love to see.  These guys played for at least an hour and a half and covered some of the best songs from their last 3 studio releases, and I am positive that the next time they play I’ll see a completely different catalog of songs, and eventually I’ll probably hear most of my wish list.  I am most thankful that they played Do You Realize? in this show, because it’s the best contender for my favorite song.  Without that song, I think I would have been slightly disappointed.  Next concert I’ll have my fingers crossed for any of the following, in no particular order:

  • Are you a Hypnotist?
  • All We Have Is Now
  • It’s Summertime
  • Fight Test
  • Turn It On
  • Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
  • The Gash (Battle Hymn for the Wounded Mathematician)
  • The Sun
  • Hit Me Like You Did the First Time
  • Pretty much the entire Clouds Taste Metallic album
  • My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (The Inner Life as Blazing Shield of Defiance and Optimism as Celestial Spear of Action)

That’s  enough for the set list to more than two shows, so I suppose I’ll just have to visit a few dozen more concerts and hope I catch a lot of them.

If you have the chance to see The Flaming Lips, take it.  If you don’t, one day you will look back on your life and notice that it feels like there’s something you missed.  That’s the hole in your experience left by not attending the concert.

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