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The Flaming Lips At The Wiltern Theatre, Monday November 21st 2022

Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips

On Monday night, The Flaming Lips’ concert at the Wiltern should have been my first gig after the pandemic, but the original date turned out to be premature and optimistic, as the pandemic was far from being over. I originally thought it could be one of their pandemic shows where people were watching the concert inside their signature plastic bubbles, but the show was canceled. It was rescheduled, then canceled again, and rescheduled a few times to finally settle for this November 21 date… Wayne Coyne apologized a few times during the show thanking the crowd: “I think it was rescheduled like 4 times, but we are finally, finally here. Thank you for sticking with it!” Micah Nelson, who opened the show with his band Particle Kid, also said: “It’s fucking amazing to be alive! You bought this ticket three years ago, we are all changed people since you bought this ticket.” He was not wrong, a lot of time has passed since and many of us went through a lot. However, one thing was sure, people were ready to have a good time, and forget about the dreadful past years. The performance looked like a giant band-aid on our collective pain, a reassuring and comforting hug on a hurting mind. The Flaming Lips have always had this effect on everyone, their shows are filled with rainbows, floating bubbles, multicolor lasers, lights, inflatable décor, and confetti. It’s always a giant birthday party except that it is everyone’s birthday – at a friend’s request, Wayne actually sang the “Happy Birthday“ song to a guy named Andy who was in the crowd. Particle Kid (Micah Nelson’s band) and the Lips performed in front of a giant LED screen as well as two bubble-shaped pieces framing the stage, and the entire night was an explosion of sounds, images, colors, confetti, and bright lights. The projection of the lyrics of all the songs on the screen also transformed the night into a long karaoke party, not that the fans needed some help with that. And did I mention the confetti? Because there was a new batch of it projected in the air at almost every song, and there was close to an inch of paper on the floor when the show was over.

Particle Kid’s set was a weird and trippy psychedelic number mixing genres from ’60s psych to ’70s electric jazz and futuristic experimentation. Some songs started like a Neil Young cover, and other ones were bursting in many directions with too many ideas for the same setting, or a monster electric guitar solo suddenly erupting from a peaceful soundscape. With a moniker inspired by a nickname given by his father Willie, Micah has called his music “an experimental future-folk solo project,” and his eclectic palette of sonic colors was at times pure psychedelic distortion, reaching cathartic levels, especially during the acrobatic ending when all members took impossible pauses whereas Micah was screaming in repeat “Life! Life! Life!” They also did a great cover of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” with the Lips’ own Steven Drozd joining them on stage.

The Flaming Lips have always cultivated the weird and the fun with a taste for eccentricity and humor. I have seen them many times and Monday night was no exception. Their cosmic soundscapes always have a wide-eyed approach, blending a rare innocence with existential angst and unruly punk psychedelia… after all, they did name themselves “Fearless Freaks” in their 2005 documentary. Their shows are always a circus where heavy subjects are handled with a lightness and a magical aura, and they have always sung about death and the fragility of existence, with their fist in the air and a rainbow above their heads. The title of their song “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear” says it all.

They wasted no time in playing the crowd pleaser and very familiar “Do You Realize” early in the performance. Wayne was already standing inside his plastic bubble, under an inflatable rainbow, and he went in and out of his bubble all night long. The only disappointment of the night is that he didn’t use it to roll over the audience as he used to… maybe the stunt has become too risky? I also have no idea why he decided to wear a Wonder Woman bathrobe above his suit for half of the show, but two people in the crowd were wearing mushroom hats and another one had a unicorn suit… there was very probably other crazy stuff that escaped me. During “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” Coyne performed in front of an inflatable giant pink robot, battling an invisible enemy, armed with his confetti cannon party poppers. With his shaggy gray hair, he looked like a sorcerer of a fairy tale.

The tour was celebrating the Lips’ 16th studio album, “American Head,” released in 2020, and since it doesn’t really make sense to tour an album released two years ago, they only perform three songs of it and browsed their extensive catalog with tunes from “Embryonic,” “The Terror,” “At War with the Mystics,” including the classics everyone wants to hear at a Lips concert such as “She Don’t Use Jelly” from “Transmissions From the Satellite Heart,” or “Race for the Prize” and “Waitin’ for a Superman,” from their symphonic “The Soft Bulletin.”

While Wayne was constantly enquiring about our well-being between songs, the entire room was floating between waves of confetti, laser lights, and singalongs. The entire performance oscillated between songs I have known forever, and less well-known noise pop, experimentation jams, multicolor drugged-out fantasies, mushroom-induced dreams, stargazing anthems, and sweeping orchestrations. Despite not being too familiar with the songs from “American Head,” they all had a familiar vibe, from the piano ballad, ”At the Movies on Quaaludes,” to the light-headed pop tune “Assassins of Youth” with its catchy chorus, to “Will You Return / When You Come Down” that they performed with an epic Micah Nelson on guitar. Nell Smith, the 15-year-old who recorded an album of Nick Cave covers with them during the pandemic, was another special guest. She did a great version of “Red Right Hand,” probably not the easiest song to perform at 15.

They came back for an encore with more from “At War with the Mystics,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and “The Soft Bulletin” with an all-senses-overwhelming “Race for the Prize” as the triumphant finale while Coyne was holding a giant “Fuck Yeah Los Angeles” balloon assemblage. There’s always an incredible feeling of exuberance and love permeating each Flaming Lips show. For two hours, frontman Wayne Coyne and his bandmates were a cure for life’s harsh realities, but, as they sing, isn’t now all we have?

Setlist (Flaming Lips)
Sagittarius Silver Announcement
Silver Trembling Hands (Embryonic)
Do You Realize??
Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear
How??
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1
Happy Birthday to You (to Andy)
At the Movies on Quaaludes
Assassins of Youth
Waitin’ for a Superman
Always There, In Our Hearts
Will You Return / When You Come Down (with Micah Nelson)
Red Right Hand (Nick Cave cover) (with Nell Smith)
She Don’t Use Jelly
Moth in the Incubator

Encore:
Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung
My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion
All We Have Is Now
Race for the Prize

 

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