The Flaming Lips at The Ryman, 5/18/11



We’re not sure if we’ve ever left a concert beaming and buzzing with so much post-show euphoria. And we’re more than sure we’ve never left a concert covered in primary-colored streamers and confetti shading our hair like psychedelic dandruff. Jaded as The Spin is, we do have hearts — the strings of which were plucked and elated for two hours by The Flaming Lips last night, in an experience we can best describe as "life-affirming."

Making their debut at The Ryman, Wayne Coyne & Co. effortlessly overwhelmed the famed theater with a vivid spectacle of sound and vision that was as joyously cathartic and uplifting as it was visually astounding. The Mother Church has never felt so intimate. Not only that, but the band totally trashed the place — which was covered in birthday-party-riffic debris within minutes of the band taking the stage.

Following a moody, psyched-out, pretty-good-but-not-particularly-memorable opening set by the Sean Lennon-co-fronted Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger — Lennon was decked out like a bespectacled sea captain, by the way — Lips singer Wayne Coyne was already onstage, appearing to oversee their crew as they prepped the palace of country for Zaireeka. With house lights still up, Coyne briefly took to the mic and addressed the crowd, offering a PSA warning to any epileptics in the house regarding the blinding strobe lights, and pleading with crowd not to sit down when he made his signature stage entrance in his “space bubble," or at any point in the show.

Soon enough, the auditorium went dark only to be drastically re-illuminated by a semi-circle LED screen that, barely even fitting behind the stage, band members Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Kliph Scurlock and newcomer Derek Brown emerged from within, while Coyne’s clear bubble was inflated with him inside. A short moment later and we were holding the 50-year-old, vest-clad singer up on our palms in a moment of mutual triumph. Meanwhile, party cannons charged with confetti exploded in the background, raining down into our beers as balloons bounced off our heads and into the rafters, and the band jammed out on some Kraut-rock.

As soon as Coyne’s bubble left our grip, it was replaced by a smoldering jazz cigarette furnished to us by a total stranger, leading to another first for The Spin: gettin’ irie right on the floor of The Ryman. Again, this all transpired within the first five minutes of the show. The Lips front-loaded their set with a pair of songs — “Worm Mountain” and “Silver Trembling Hands” — from 2009’s psychedelic brain-bender Embryonic, the latter of which Coyne sang on the shoulders of a fan in a bear suit. Once we’d acclimated to the spectacle, The Lips upped the ante and exploded into their single hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” raising the arms and shaking the hips of the onstage party dancers, who, in keeping with the night's Wizard of Oz theme, were decked out like Dorothys and Cowardly Lions.

“Thank you guys for standing up and being freaks,” Coyne said with sincerity following the impassioned crowd participation that accompanied “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” The band then tried out their recent one-off single “Is David Bowie Dying?”, which — if memory serves — featured Drozd on, no joke, iPhone. We noted this detail on our iPhone. How meta is that?

Other main-set highlights included a mesmerizing “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” — complete with Teletubby footage onscreen — the band having their Bon Jovi* moment with Coyne milking a deafening sing-along for all its worth during “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and a laser-light laden, transfixing rendition of “The Observer” that lead into a transcendent, passionate “What Is the Light?” — an epic one-two punch of Soft Bulletin-ness.

By this point, we’d managed to worm our way up to the front of the stage in time to find Coyne once again within arms reach as the band treated us to a double-encore of their two signature anthems — “Race for the Prize” and “Do You Realize?” As the latter made our eyes well up (for real), we were thrilled at the realization that we may very well have seen the greatest show we’ll ever see, and saddened to, you know, realize that it couldn’t last forever — truly bringing the song’s sentiments to life in the moment. And that’s what makes a Flaming Lips show so great: The band is perhaps unmatched in their ability to, at least for a couple hours, create the world of wonder their music can only make you imagine on recording. Their show is, to put it simply, perfect.

*And speaking of Bon Jovi, we spotted poodle-coiffed BJ keyboardist David Bryan at Robert’s after the show. Does this mean The ‘Jove is making another country record? Ugh.

Add a comment