Flaming Lips deliver summer spectacle at Pavilion

A review of the Flaming Lips at the Bank of America Pavilion on August 30, 2009

, Staff Writer

If there’s one thing you can say about a Flaming Lips show it’s that they don’t skimp on the spectacle. Even before a member of the band took the stage, the large lighting/projection structure in the back of the stage, along with canons on either side, held the promise of flashing lights, showers of confetti, and thick clouds of smoke being present throughout the evening. Lead singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne walked around in the open, fiddling with instruments, shooting confetti into the crowd, generally being very casual in his demeanor. Of course, the band’s actual taking of the stage was a lot of things, casual most certainly not being one of them.

Officially, the psychedelic ambient noise to introduce the band is called “In Excelsior Vaginalistic.” A silhouette of a naked woman dances across the projection screen for a few minutes, eventually sitting spread-eagle on the “floor” while a white light emanates from her nether-regions. The shot zooms closer and closer to this light until the entire screen is taken up by a flickering white light, behind which the band comes out. Coyne appears last, every time, in his infamous human-sized inflatable ball. He walked around, doing some cursory crowd-surfing, got himself back on stage and out of the ball, and picked up a guitar. There were dancing girls, on one side dressed as white teddy bears, on the other in futuristic short skirt getups. Dozens of orange and red balloons came from nowhere, and the canons shot a whole slew of confetti into the air repeatedly. And apparently this is all standard fare for a Flaming Lips show.

It was at this point that one recalls that there is some music to be heard, too, and the band launched into “Race For The Prize,” a single off of The Soft Bulletin, and also a fairly common opener of theirs. Coyne’s vocals don’t sound quite as good-bad as they do in the studio, being a bit more normal when you hear them in person, though he made up for it by continually engaging the crowd throughout the evening. I don’t think I’ve seen a person wave his arms upwards to get people to cheer more times in one evening than at this show, but the adoring attendees in front were more than happy to indulge him every time.

The band is gearing up for the release of their new album, Embryonic, and thus Boston was given a preview of three tracks off the forthcoming album. “Silver Trembling Hands” came immediately after the opener, a pretty intense, rhythmic piece, heavy on the psychedelics. Coyne showed off his ridiculous screaming chops for that one. “Convinced of the Hex” was pretty firmly in the middle of the set, and shortly following was “See The Leaves,” which had previously never been performed.

There was plenty of time for old favorites, too. The crowd exploded with the one-two punch of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” into “Fight Test,” though truthfully “Fight Test” was a bit of a letdown, performed simply with Coyne’s vocals and keyboard. They would do this again with “Yoshimi.” I can understand why the band chose this route – they’re probably pretty tired of playing two of their biggest songs every single night, and so decided to mix it up with an “unplugged” version. The thing is, the whole place was ready to explode throughout both the songs, and there was a notable sense of deflation every time the drums didn’t come in when expected.

One of the more affective moments of the show was when the band took a lot of the spectacle out and played a very moving rendition of “Taps,” the band backing Coyne’s warm and soft bugle playing, adding an interesting chord progression to the piece. It was a little corny asking the audience to put up the peace sign “as hard as you can,” but the moment was still a nice one.

The main set ended with “She Don’t Use Jelly,” thankfully played straight-up, though with an extra round of verse tacked on at the end after the applause had died down. As an encore, Coyne first had everyone sing happy birthday to Lindsay, who was holding a sign up in the front row, and then ending it all with “Do You Realize??”, a pretty suitable closer that closed things out on a nostalgic and familiar note.

What’s interesting about the Flaming Lips is that their music has grown proportionally to their own popularity. A song like “Silver Trembling Hands” would sound silly outside of a large venue, and, truthfully, the fantastic spectacle of the show was the saving grace during the middle of the set, which musically was pretty dull. The flashing lights and flying paper helped keep things moving, though, and the show ended with sufficient musical power that it’s hard to fault the band too much. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the band would have sounded like at, say, the Paradise, in between Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi. They wouldn’t be rolling out of giant vaginas in human-sized balls, that’s for sure.

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