Monday, September 25, 2006

The Flaming Lips @ Hammerstein

Setlist (Approximate):

Race for the Prize//Free Radicals//Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots I//Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots II//Vein of Stars//The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song//My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion//The W.A.N.D//She Don't Use Jelly//Do You Realize
A Spoonful Weighs a Ton
You Have to be Joking

I've been prepping for the live show by watching their music video DVD, V.O.I.D. There are two really notable things I take away from it. One is that Wayne looks totally different once the band enters The Soft Bulletin era. Before that he's a generic grunge rocker, but post SB, he takes on an air of mystic importance, and, perhaps coincidentally, the music also takes a quantum leap. The other notable thing is that until Yoshimi, most of their videos were pretty weak. But, the video for the title track off Yoshimi and the US version of Do You Realize make it worth it. This is surprising considering the supreme visual merits of their live show, which lives up to its reputation for inspired wackiness in a really festive, celebratory atmosphere.

Unlike most bands, the Lips set up their own equipment. There's something cool about that, to see Wayne wondering around doing the checks with his fellow bandmates. I've never been to a show at Hammerstein so it was striking just how big the place is. I was still able to get a spot pretty close to the stage, so it worked out fine for me. I don't see why you would sit in the upper level seats in the back, but I'm glad someone did.

The show opened with Wayne rolling around the crowd in the inflatable bubble. It's a very cool visual element, but I wish there was a way to get a mic in there. Following that intro they ripped in to the opening riff of 'Race for the Prize,' a perfect set opener. As the song opened, streams of confetti flew up in the air and balloons appeared in the audience. It was one of the best concert moments I've ever experienced, watching all this confetti hover in the air around.

The whole philosophy of their show is different from most bands. At times the focus drifts away from the music into a spectacle designed to entertain the audience. Listening to Race for the Prize was great, but was really dazzling was what was going on visually around me. This is one of the few bands that I think actually benefits from being in a bigger venue, I don't think some of the moments they pull off could have been replicated in an Irving Plaza style venue.

The biggest visual spectacle of the night was the laser light show during 'Vein of Stars.' Everyone in the crowd was given laser pointers, which served as a diversion while waiting for the show to begin. Wayne came out and said to save the battery for the big experiment they would do mid-show. Basically, it consisted of everyone pointing their lasers at a mirror that Wayne was holding. This created a really weird red glow that hung in the air like gas around him. All through the arena was a grid of laser beams, it looked pretty cool, and fit really well with Floyd-y spacerock the band was playing.

During the show, Wayne was very concerned about integrating the audience into the goings on. He was almost like a camp leader, making everyone sing along with the songs. The first example of this was the encore sing along version of Yoshimi after the main one was done. But, the most successful was on 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,' which seemingly had everyone in the audience shouting the chorus back at him. That was definitely one of the night's highlights.

Throughout the show, they used video backing for a number of songs. I really liked the sort of generic spacey stuff they used at times, and the music video excerpts worked well for Yoshimi, but at times I wished they'd stick to the abstract stuff and not use actual video. It was just distracting. However, for 'My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,' they had an animated story about birds, with the song's lyrics superimposed over. I think it added a lot to the emotion of the song, which was already one of my favorites off At War With the Mystics. After the verses, the band drops this incredible instrumental segment, it's the best moment on the album and worked great live.

'The W.A.N.D' was also cool, Wayne had two strobe lights strapped to his chest, making some crazy visuals to back another great song off Mystics. Even 'She Don't Use Jelly' worked well, with the drums giving a march feel to the chorus. Around this time, the crowd was pointing lasers at a balloon, making a very cool visual effect. Wayne stopped the show and encouraged everyone to point their lasers there. I'm not sure if the laser effects were worth the annoyance of having lasers pointed at you all show, but they were certainly worth doing this once.

The main set closed with 'Do You Realize,' my favorite song of theirs. Again they put the confetti canons to full use, with streamers hovering in the air for the entire song. It was beautiful, the perfect set closer. Following that they did a subdued version of 'A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,' and left again. But, the lights weren't on, so I figured we'd be getting one more song. They came out and played 'You Have to Be Joking,' a song I'm not familiar with, but sounded great, and was a really nice closer to the show.

I'd heard a lot about The Flaming Lips live experience, and I think it lived up to the hype. I think they might have done with a bit less talking between songs, to get a better flow going, but the interaction with the audience was a big part of the appeal, so I guess it's fine as is. The new songs sound great live, and they've kept a good selection of stuff from year's past. There's really nothing like having that confetti suspended above you as massive balloons float above the audience and the band plays fantastic music.

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