The Flaming Lips did “It” again at a sold-out performance Wednesday 21 April at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. By “It” I mean they provided fans with a spectacular array of color, sights, sounds and emotions during a nearly two-hour set.
Setting the evening’s tone was Oklahoma based Stardeath and White Dwarfs (SDWD). Comprised of ex-Flaming Lips crew members Casey Joseph (bass/keyboards), Matt Duckworth (drums) and James Youth (guitar), and fronted by Wayne Coyne’s nephew Dennis Coyne (vocals/guitar/keyboard), the band produced a loud, acid washed sound full of color matched with overblown amps. Their songs were tight and full of attitude, especially Duckworth’s steadfast drum beats. For the duration of SDWD’s set Uncle Wayne could be seen acting as head cheerleader, ribbon dancing in the stage wings.
The band was framed by The Lips’ trademark half-moon screen, looping psychedelic images of oil on water, flashing color bursts and clips of females from ‘70s-cult films. Between the band’s sound, flair and visuals it was clear that the young musicians are prodigies of their forefathers The Flaming Lips. While their sound is their own, it resembled a grounded version of The Lips’ early days circa 1986-1989.
SDWD ended their set with a rocking, progressive rendition of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run”, off the legendary Dark Side of the Moon. Attendees and newcomers danced in the aisles and seats as the band cruised along on the backbeat. I was positioned in the balcony, for ticketholders could not rock out on the main floor unless one had a pre-purchased neon green wristband. The balcony offered a satisfactory lookout: peering down on the stage was equivalent to gazing down a rabbit hole and witnessing madness on the other end. Between the perplexity over wristbands, lax/non-aggressive security and $3 PBR tallboys, I knew I was far from my native Chicago.
Shortly after SDWD fled the scene, the opening ceremonies for The Flaming Lips began. Wayne kick- started it all with an audience pep talk and disclaimer regarding extreme flashing lights. At the start of the band’s grand entrance, the half-moon screen illuminated the hall with a technicolor silhouette of a dancing female, shaded royal blue with dazzling trails tracing her body. As the lady aimed to seduce the audience the video zoomed in on her vagina; a trap door in the screen revealed itself as the band members appeared one-by-one, emerging out of the orifice and descending onto stage via an orange ramp balanced near the opening.
Each musician positioned himself behind his respected instruments as Wayne continued the pre-show ritual of crowd surfing in his trademark space bubble; with every roar from the crowd the bubble inflated. The first shots of confetti were fired, balloons were released and it was off to the races. Lucky chosen fans danced in the sidelines decked out in the finest creature costumes inspired by children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba. Included in the pageant was a larger than life caterpillar and what appeared to be a catfish wearing a suit and hat?
Throughout the set The Flaming Lips stayed true to their reputation for bringing a celebratory freak-out wherever they go. They also stayed true to their typical formula including: the fish-eye mic camera, plenty of smoke, a blitzkrieg of strobe lights, an expressive sing-along to “She Don’t Use Jelly”, a heart-felt acoustic rendition of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1”, an empowering “The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song”, and a dramatic finale of “Do You Realize??” involving Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, the ultimate confetti burst and a sea of peace signs. As over-saturated as it is one could still feel the power behind “Realize” as its force and emotion brought upon jubilation for all.
Mixing up the familiar were several selections from the band’s 2009 release Embryonic. The theater pulsated with the band’s heart beats as they laid down “Worm Mountain”, sending chills down my spine. “Silver Trembling Hands” shook the hall with its innate driving beat, angelic accents and embellishments by multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd. Adding visual flair Wayne slipped on his “Hulk hands” and raised them high in the sky, climaxing with green lasers shooting out of the appendages, highlighting the madness of it all.
Prior to the “Realize” finale the band invited SDWD onstage to join them in covering Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”, both off Dark Side of the Moon. An image of a disco ball filled the backing screen, and the entire theater swayed, helicoptering limbs in deep expression over head, with dazed smiles and glazed eyes. As the bands cued the lunatic in the song, the theater erupted in mad laughter, bringing out the universal lunatic with whom everyone could relate. Taking in the characters surrounding me in the audience I witnessed the music charge every soul, enlightening and leading all to soar regardless of state-of-mind (chemically altered or lucid).