THE FLAMING LIPS
Explosions In The Sky
Star Death & White Dwarfs
August 26, 2009
Chastain Park Amphitheatre
Atlanta , GA
I'd never heard of Star Death And White Dwarfs before tonight. Within one song, I was glad I came early. Any fan of The Flaming Lips needs to know this band. I guess most already do. I'm just a late comer.
Fronted by Lips frontman Wayne Coyne's nephew Dennis and made up of former Lips roadies, Star Death came out with all the lights and smoke you'd expect . The only potential problem was, it was still daylight. It didn't matter. I usually would shy away from such blatant comparisons and while they may wear on the band a bit, I'm sure they can't deny that they're basically Flaming Lips, Jr. That's a compliment.
No other act that I've seen has ever come close (and I've seen a few bands try), but Star Death And White Dwarfs got it right. I believe it would be impossible to love the Flaming Lips and not like Star Death And White Dwarfs. I thought it was even better that they have the guts to do it on the Flaming Lips' very own stage and that the Lips encourage it. Proud Uncle Wayne watched the gig from the wings with a wide smile. I guess it does run in the family.
By the time Explosions In The Sky hit the stage a nice crowd had assembled. I'm usually not that big a fan of instrumental acts but this was perfect for this evening and for this bill. Explosions In The Sky were like a sonic ocean, ebbing and flowing. The guys were on cruise control in the best possible way. Their music didn't seem an extension of their individual personalities as much as an extension of a collective entity that could only exist with these four people in this moment. I was quite impressed and so was the crowd. I heard someone yell, “You guys are God!” after one particularly spell-binding crescendo. It broke the trance for a second but elicited a few smiles from the band members. The Flaming Lips couldn't have picked two better bands to set the mood before them.
Is there any more joyous of a beginning to a concert than with The Flaming Lips? Following a nearly literal “birth” to the show, front man Wayne Coyne challenged the set up of Chastain Park by riding his “space bubble” over the hands of the crowd. The first official song hadn't even begun! And when “Race For The Prize” finally did kick in, all heaven broke loose.
Confetti and streamers shot out dramatically, while fans in costumes danced wildly on each side of the stage. No one sat down. There were smiles as far as the eye could see. Massive balloons from the back of the stage bounced out into the Georgia night. It doesn't feel hokey to say that it was magical. If you've ever experienced a Flaming Lips show, you know what I mean. If you haven't, you really should.
Before all the streamers from the first song even hit the ground, Wayne Coyne was on the back of gorilla being paraded around the stage to a super-heavy rendition of the new cut “Silver Trembling Hands”. Coyne screamed, smiled and led the crowd, all from the back of the giant primate (Okay, it was a guy in a gorilla costume, but Wayne was still on the back of a primate.)
Following another massive crowd participation on “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, the Lips finally gave the crowd a chance to catch a breath with a quietened version of “The Fight Test”. When the crowd took the time to breathe in, it breathed in a lot of pot smoke. Even outdoors at Chastain Park, there was enough of that very particular smell for Wayne to comment about the smoke from the audience overwhelming the band's onstage smoke machines.
A couple of mid-set surprises (the oldie “Bad Days” and the obscure non-album track “Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear”) satiated the die-hards, which were in abundance. The brand new tune “Convinced Of The Hex” conjured Revolver-era Beatles (in particular “Tomorrow Never Knows”) and was a perfect showcase for bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Kliph Scurlock. The hypnotic groove isn't complicated but it's such a strong one that it's impossible to ignore the power of this rhythm section.
Unfortunately, the show slowed down for too long at this point. “Vein Of Stars” was a nice tune outdoors on a late summer night, but it didn't have the energy or emotional heft of the first part of the set. “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" should've solved that slight dilemma, but this was another re-arranging. “Yoshimi” was fairly subdued and the “battle” that used to happen onstage for part 2 of the song was conspicuously missing.
The lag continued through the instrumental “Pompeii A.M. Gotterdamerung”. If taken from a strictly musical standpoint, this portion of the show was stunning as multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd (the under appreciated not-so-secret weapon of The Lips) finally had the chance to shine while Wayne Coyne smashed a gong in time. Lips afficianados are spoiled by "the big show", however, and this brief respite from overt theatrics seemed to inspire a lot of bathroom breaks. The ones who listened were rewarded.
The energy finally picked back up with “The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)”. By this point, The Lips' smoke machines were not only competing with the crowd's smoke but the strobe lights onstage were competing with a thunderstorm in the distance. This time, The Lips couldn't compete as an arc of lightning darted from left to right just above the stage, prompting Wayne Coyne to state, “If we die here in Atlanta, so what”, with a smile.
“She Don't Use Jelly” ended the main set with another massive sing-along. The single encore was the achingly beautiful “Do You Realize?”. Wayne made a convincing argument on why the Flaming Lips fans are the best. He explained how the band throws confetti and balloons at them and the fans make it magic. It's true. There's a very particular, celebratory feel at a Flaming Lips show that I've not felt anywhere else. It's a beautiful thing. The band's first performance at Chastain Park was certainly no exception. Somehow, The Flaming Lips manage to create a different experience with the same basic show they've been doing for the last decade or so. I can't wait until next time.
Chris McKay / Concertshots.com
Flaming Lips Set List For Atlanta on August 26, 2009
(Click on the highlighted links in the review above or on the set list below for YouTube clips.)
1. Ta Da!
2. Race For The Prize
3. Silver Trembling Hands
4. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
5. The Fight Test
6. Bad Days
7. Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear
8. Convinced Of The Hex
9. Vein Of Stars
10. Excerpt From "The Firebird Suite"
11. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1
12. Pompeii A.M. Gotterdamerung
14. The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)
15. She Don't Use Jelly
16. Do You Realize?
Click here for my last experience with The Flaming Lips.