BY MICHAEL PLUMIDES JR.
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips exudes rock star. He’s the guy that
into adopting his tune “Do You Realize” as their state song. He’s the man who
can take 45 minutes for a sound check while you’re crammed stage front like a
sardine and later you thank him for it. Wayne
is the likeable anomaly of rock; his persona – concert maestro, his attitude –
bemused ringmaster, his presence – electric madman.
Coyne, with long time band mates Mike Ivins, and Steve Drozd have now
spanned three decades with their disjointed aural assault. But the band’s
development has come in a series of phases. I bore witness to The Lips as an
obscure 80’s sludge-metal outfit teetering between Smack and Die Kreuzen
(opening up for the likes of SST’s Black Flag in punk rock shitholes across the
US) with early releases Hear It Is and Oh My Gawd, garnishing hero worship from my old alma mater at WUSC-FM and like
college radio stations across the country.
Their shiny happy 90’s alt-rock silliness splooshed their first hit
for Warner entitled, “She Don’t use Jelly”.
At the turn of the millennium, Coyne and Co. enjoyed dancing on the
periphery of universal pet band status for a few light years with releases The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. But the band cosmically exploded
supernova-style and were jettisoned to mega-stardom after the release of the
perennial At War with Mystics in
Following Mystics with the
noisy Embryonic, Flaming Lips now
enjoy jaunts appearing at the biggest music events in the world. They represent
the new pseudo-psychedelia, gladly inheriting the mantel from Pink Floyd
performing Dark Side of the Moon in
its entirety at festivals last year (at Bonnaroo – consumed by the heat I slept
through it in my motel room like an idiot).
The Lips brought in the heavy
artillery; armed with the biggest fucking disco ball I’ve ever seen
transcending from the heavens like the Death Star. And let’s not forget a light
show that would give the execs at Enron a heart attack, Wayne, after warning the crowd of their
infinite power, began his journey down the rabbit hole. Coyne appeared in his
plastic bubble as the band consumed the Fillmore – Charlotte
with a barrage of sound that likely rattled the triptychs of Stonehenge with
“The Fear” following with “Worm
Once released from his
poly-cell, Coyne sang into his camera-microphone projecting HD close up
streaming images on the rear panel fifty feet or so, behind Kliph Scurlock, the
percussionist who joined the Lips in the 90’s.
Each side of the stage was adorned by leggy Dorothy Gales from Kansas replacing yesteryear’s Roswell aliens and Santa Clauses in a “Wizard
of Oz” motif that would leave any red-blooded American guy wanting to peel
back the curtain and take a peek. There were giant dancing bears and toads,
balloons and streamers all amidst the deafening music making for, as Wayne
described to Billboard, a “big,
elaborate freakout” or more specifically, “some new gadgets and things to freak
And the band played on… and on. “Is David Bowie Dying”
which recently popped up on their latest EP 2011,
was followed shortly by “See the Leaves,” “The Ego’s Last
Stand” and of course 1993’s “Jelly”, an acoustic “Yoshimi”, the Meddle-esque “Pompeii am
Gotterdammerung”, “Race for the Prize” and the aforementioned Okie theme
Coyne, thankful and gracious as
ever, feels the need to take on a little of that KISS ethos. You go to see the Flaming Lips and you get
your money’s worth. The band is chaotic
to the ear live in a screaming X-wing jet fighter kind of way, but the melodic
interludes coupled with their blistering wall of sound make for a pleasurable,
if not ear-ringing night.
On the way out, I spied a
Flaming Lips t-shirt at the merch table with a black and white nude woman
cradling a skull in one hand and holding two fingers up as if absolving the
crowd as they exited. Posted over her head was the line, “Flaming Lips: Peace
and Punk Rock”… for $40.00. Rock star,
indeed. You’re Goddamn right. Give the
people what they want.
[Photos by Justin Kates]