The Flaming Lips have always been about big ideas: In 1997, it was Zaireeka, an experimental release comprising four CD's designed to be played simultaneously; in 2002, it was Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a concept album so theatrical the band decided to adapt it into a Broadway musical with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin; and come Oct. 13, the big idea wil be Embryonic, the Oklahoma City group's first double-album.
Through it all the Flaming Lips have held fast to another big idea -- that the rock concert should be a completely over-the-top, thoroughly interactive, audio-visual freak-out -- which is exactly what the group gave the crowd packed into the Greek Theatre Monday night in Los Angeles for the second stop on their 21-date tour in support of Embryonic.
The concert began, naturally enough, with the Flaming Lips being born. For drummer Kliph Scurlock, bassist Michael Ivins, and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd that meant walking through an elevated door in the middle of a multimedia screen onto which a huge, digital vagina had been projected. For lead singer Wayne Coyne it meant appearing on stage curled up in what initially looked like an adult-sized placenta.
Thankfully, it turned out to be the frontman's patented inflatable plastic bubble, a crowd-surfing apparatus he immediately put to good use while canons shot confetti into the air, dozens of giant balloons were released into the audience, and a phalanx of backup dancers hit the stage dressed as mini-skirted white mice or shag-carpeted abominable snowmen.
Clever tie-in to the release of Embryonic, the band's "birthday" was a hell of an excuse for a party. Too much of a party for Coyne, apparently. "A little while ago there was a lot of pot smoke wafting onto the stage," the singer exclaimed after "Race for the Prize" from 1999's The Soft Bulletin. "Please don't get the band stoned."
If Coyne preferred to keep his own lungs clear, that was obviously neither the case for his audience nor his characters -- particularly the protagonist of the Lips' next offering, the Embryonic track "Silver Trembling Hands." "She forgets about the fear," Coyne sang from atop the shoulders of a dancing gorilla, "When she's high / When she's high / When she's high."
Pounding and paranoid in its verse, sedate in its smoky-sweet chorus, the track offered the crowd only a brief glimpse into Embryonic's contents. Performing just one other track from the forthcoming album -- the spooky "Convinced of the Hex" -- the Flaming Lips had apparently decided to keep their mouths mostly shut about it.
Focusing on crowd pleasers from their last few releases, including "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and "The W.A.N.D." from 2006's At War with the Mystics and the title track from the aforementioned Yoshimi, Coyne and company kept things familiar.
And with two major exceptions, the anti-Bush, anti-war Yoshimi track "Fight Test" and a stirring interpretation of "Taps" with Coyne using a push-button bugle, the group kept the concert upbeat.
In fact, the saddest moment came when Coyne -- trying to abide by theopen air venue's 10:30 P.M. curfew -- announced that the band didn't have time for a proper finish.
"We don't want to rob you of an encore -- it's one of the best things about seeing a show!" said Coyne. "So we're just going to stand over there, and ask you guys to go crazy and then we'll come back."
Pausing just long enough to let the crowd erupt in applause, the band concluded the show with a glorious take of the ever-hopeful "Do You Realize??"
Surveying the crowd, which was giving a standing ovation as the final strips of confetti rained down from the sky, Coyne offered his own answer to the question. "I know you do."
SET LIST"Race for the Prize"
"Silver Trembling Hands"
"The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"
"Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear"
"Convinced of the Hex"
"Vein of Stars"
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1"
"Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung"
"Do You Realize??"