OAKLAND — There’s a feeling you get on hallucinogenic drugs that’s a little like an astronaut in a space capsule reentering the atmosphere: a fear that grips you as you’re traveling at tremendous speeds, hurtling through the thin air, protected only by a fragile metal shell. Nursing a nasty cold, walking past signs warning of lasers and strobe lights, while a full moon hung in the night sky, I got a little of that feeling again.
Wednesday night The Flaming Lips turned out a low-key performance dripping with the psychedelia and stage antics we’ve come to expect from them. With a lush digital light show featuring a wall of LED lights at the front of the stage and a projection screen behind them oozing digital swirls and fusillades of color synched to the music, the band kicked off the show with the warped string sounds of “Race for the Prize,” from seminal 1999 album The Soft Bulletin before spending the next 90 minutes sampling from their later albums.
Lead singer and master of ceremonies Wayne Coyne stood at the center of the chaos, dressed in a bright orange shirt and a strange leatherette vest-like thing, his tousled grey hair lit up by the lights behind him, flanked by the rest of the band: multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd in a rainbow cape, the towering and slender figure of bassist Michael Ivins posted up on the right side of the stage, and a pair of drummers with long green hair pounding on kits at the rear of the stage.
The large and enthusiastic crowd drank in the kaleidoscopic light show, no doubt some of them involved in their own planetary reentry as the band played “There Should be Unicorns,” from their latest album, Oczy Melody (and yes, there was a giant unicorn). During the band’s compelling cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” lead singer Coyne surfed over the crowd in his prized huge inflatable ball.
The band kept to its more atmospheric music, playing “Castles” and “How” from its latest album along with “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” and the instrumental “Sleeping on the Roof,” from The Soft Bulletin, but that didn’t stop the crowd from cheering enthusiastically between songs and swaying gently during them.
There’s something wonderfully human about The Flaming Lips. No matter how many lights are flashing, how much smoke fills the stage, how transcendent they’re onstage, jamming, there is a palpable concern for the fleshy figures sitting in our capsules out in the audience. There was also an inflatable rainbow at one point. Donning a white furry parka, Coyne regaled the audience with a story about how at a previous show, the rainbow had failed to fully inflate. The moral of the story was: never doubt a rainbow.
During the encore the band played its ‘90s radio hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart before finishing up with “Do You Realize” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Concertgoers filed out of the historic Oakland theater and out into the cool night, silently reentering the reality they had temporarily left.
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