“On Fire With The Flaming Lips”
Written by Jason Reed
October 9, 2017
On Saturday October 6th the Flaming Lips rocked the Santa Barbara Bowl with their unique blend of otherworldly sounds, inspired lyrics and theatrical stage antics that would put the cast of Cirque Du Soleil to shame.
Opener Mac Demarco warmed the audience up, performing some of his most popular songs (including “Salad Days,” “Ode To Viceroy” and “Chamber of Reflection“), along with tracks off his new album released in May entitled “This Old Dog.” Someone I recently talked to derisively called Demarco the “Jimmy Buffett of modern rock.” In some ways this description isn’t that far off the mark. There certainly is a charming, comedic and at times “boozy” vibe to both artists that would be a perfect accompaniment to lounging about dockside on a yacht while fishing or while relaxing in a hammock in a tropical cabana with an alcoholic beverage in one hand. But that’s where the similarities end. Despite his goofy stage antics and irrefutable boyish charm, there is a confessional vulnerability in Mac that one would never encounter in Jimmy. If Jimmy consistently talked about the largely negative, formative influence that his dad had on him or repeatedly praised and displayed his undying love for his Canadian girlfriend, then you’d be getting warmer. But still no (De)Marco Polo….Truth be told, if the reaction of the audience in front of the stage was any indication , there was a sizable part of the young (under 25) crowd who appeared to be there primarily to see Mac perform. He has that kind of draw, and deservedly so. He is that good live.
When the Flaming Lips took the stage to the sweeping sounds of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” it soon became patently clear what the huge array of lights, fog machines and other machinations were for. Having never seen them perform with their full theatric might (I knew about “the bubble” as well as the confetti that Flaming Lips shows were famous for), witnessing it come together so fluidly, as one song morphed into another, was one of the most impressive audiovisual spectacles I’ve ever seen.
Highlights of the night included Wayne belting out “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” while appropriately standing under a huge inflatable pink robot and hearing for the first time the electronic foreboding stylings of “There Should Be Unicorns” (off of their most recent album “Oczy Mlody“). Hearing “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung” performed live reminded me of, well, Pink Floyd playing at Pompeii (one of my favorite concert films of all time). Speaking of all time favorites, the rendition of one of my favorite Flaming Lips songs (“Are You A Hypnotist?“) had the crowd dancing and undulating in a nearly hypnotic fashion, fully enraptured and under the magical control of enchanter Coyne. The audience was then graced with Coyne’s otherworldly impression of “A Bowie In A Bubble” as he seemingly floated onto the crowd while singing “Space Oddity.”
Before performing “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” Wayne made note of the unique Santa Barbara Bowl layout, nested in a canyon underneath numerous homes in the idyllic Santa Barbara hillside, before coyly telling the crowd: “There are some people that live in some nice and expensive houses around here…some are trying to sleep…for most of the show there’s a limit on how loud we can be but we have no control over how loud you can be! At the end of this song try to scream so loudly that those people trying to sleep will not be able to sleep. They’ll be pleasantly jarred out of sleep by a bunch of people saying ‘love.’ Let that be the loudest fucking word we ever scream at strangers!“. In the ensuing minutes thereafter, I kept chuckling at the surreal appropriateness of the messianic Wayne imploring his fans to “love thy neighbors” in such a unified fashion. I still wonder what the neighbors thought of that…..
One of the most heartfelt moments of the night was when Wayne honored the late, great Tom Petty (who had passed away four days prior) and name dropped Bob Marley through his proclamation, “There’s a guy by the name of Bob up there. He and Tom are smoking a big fucking joint right now in heaven” before diving into an inspired version of Petty’s “American Girl” that compelled the audience to sing along (and in many cases, toke up) in kind.
All in all, it was a magical night of fun and love. When the final notes of “Do You Realize?” ended, and the final pieces of confetti and balloons had fallen, I had a lightbulb moment in which I realized that the Flaming Lips are one of the closest approximations this generation has of the Grateful Dead, commanding a degree of revelry, good vibes and camaraderie amongst the tribe of fans in the audience.
The full setlist for the night was as follows:
- Race for the Prize
- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1
- There Should Be Unicorns
- Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
Space Oddity (David Bowie Cover)
Are You A Hypnotist??
A Spoonful Weighs A Ton
American Girl (Tom Petty Cover)
Do You Realize?