The Flaming Lips
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
The Flaming Lips concert at the Performing Arts Center might be remembered as one of Charleston’s most visually stimulating and joy-filled musical events of the year. The Oklahoma-based band’s demented, polished, and love-themed variety show was more than politely received. Kudos to the venue for bravely hosting such a wild rock ‘n’ roll circus.
A typical Lips show is more of a theatrical piece of performance art (on great acid) than it is a standard rock show. Frontman Wayne Coyne, the group’s main guitarist back in its early days, conducted the whole affair like a cheerful ringleader with a sermon of love in his mind.
A loud but cheerful mix of local hippies, punks, weirdos, and old-school Lips fans carried on in full party mode in the PAC lobby shortly after doors opened. The unannounced openers Talkdemonic — an electronic violinist/drummer duo from Portland, Oregon — played a rhythmic, hypnotic, and mostly instrumental set as folks milled around in the theater seats. Nearly half of the attendees showed up in extravagant Halloween costumes, which enhanced the carnivalesque atmosphere.
With the stage lights on neutral white, all four members of the Flaming Lips — Coyne, bassist Mike Ivins, keyboardist/guitarist Steven Drozd, and drummer Kliph Scurlock — helped their roadies assemble gear and props during the intermission. Coyne returned to the stage with house lights up to welcome the audience. He chuckled as he warned fans in the first few rows about the strobe-lights and lasers. Then the lights went down, and the video screen lit up.
The rhythm section walked on stage via a ramp from the middle of the screen. Coyne literally got the ball rolling during the first song (a zany rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”) as he performed his trademark crowd surfing from inside an oversized hamster ball. The Lips team dropped and blasted ribbons of confetti, fog, and huge balloons into the audience while an orange-tinged video clip of a nude pixie danced across the semicircular screen. It was a dramatic, interactive, and exhilarating opening.
Coyne had his own mini camera mounted on his mic stand, which allowed for some great close-ups on the big screen. Two gangs of dancing ladies dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz assembled on both sides of the stage. from For all of the theatrics, the backing members of the band stood in place and confidently took care of their instrumental duties. Drozd had his hands and arms full of various guitars as he switched from strumming to pressing keys and buttons on his battery of synths and samplers. Ivins stood and sat stoically at stage left through the show. Scurlock bashed a basic four-piece kit with Bonham-like power and grace.
Coyne, however, delivered the genuine feeling and passion at the heart of the performance. He repeatedly urged fans to “receive and push back the love,” often beckoning them with a smiling “Come on, motherfuckers!”
Highlights in the main set included a lengthy version of the 1994 single “She Don’t Use Jelly” (fans shouted the line “She uses Vaseline!” with Coyne during each chorus), a mellowed-out “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1,” and a string of acoustic numbers. On the spooky, set-closing “The Observer,” a rapid-flash series of irises, pupils, and vaginas strobed behind the band on the screen while Coyne plucked a sitar-like melody.
The first encore drew from the band’s recent tribute album The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon. They respectfully twisted “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” into a double-shot of weirdness that Roger Waters would have approved. “Do You Realize??” — the anthemic single from their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — closed the show on an uplifting note.