"Everyone always says that when bands play places like L.A. and New York that no one wants to have a good time," frontman Wayne Coyne told the giddy crowd at Manhattan's Terminal 5 before The Flaming Lips' show last night. "But I think that's fucking bullshit!"
New York may have a blasé reputation (well-deserved or not), but on Tuesday the Lips' fans proved the city's critics wrong, and Coyne right. And really, how could they not have had a good time? Together for 27 years, The Flaming Lips are the only band playing SPIN's week-long 25th anniversary concert series (presented in conjunction with ZYNC from American Express) who are older than the magazine itself. But despite their age, Coyne and his cronies have remained one of rock's most thrilling, most inventive-most euphoric-live acts.
Nearly every song Tuesday night came with its own wacky prop. For the show's opening instrumental jam, Coyne brought out his man-sized "space bubble"-a giant transparent ball that allowed the singer to literally walk on top of the crowd's outstretched hands in a sort of zero gravity crowd-surf.
For "See the Leaves," Coyne donned a massive pair of prosthetic hands that he used to (what else) reflect light beams back at two disco balls hanging above the stage.
For "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung," Coyne played a gong with lights mounted on its frame that exploded in a riot of blues and reds with each whack. And there was, of course, a near constant stream of confetti and balloons throughout the night, the former shot from canons mounted on either side of the stage.
But the Lips' best trick may have been their very first. Every band member save for Coyne emerged onstage birthed out of a woman's crotch-or to be more precise, out of a trap door in a screen on which a giant projection of a naked woman sat splayed, her vulva bathed in an iridescent glow. New York loved it.
Of course, The Flaming Lips didn't win three Grammys for nothing. They also write great songs. And last night was full of them. "Silver Trembling Hands," from last year's weird and wonderful Embryonic, was a turbulent ride through horror-movie psych and smooth funk. It also went on for nearly 10 minutes, coming to a near stop twice only to start up again, Steven Drozd's buzz-saw guitar egged on by Coyne's manic vocal riffs on the song's chorus ("When she's high")-"I wanna fucking fuck high!"
The Lips also found time for a little sweetness and light. "She Don't Use Jelly," a surprise radio hit back in 1993, was a welcome blast of nostalgia-the audience mouthing every word. And for "I Can Be a Frog," also from Embryonic, Coyne roped the crowd into an old-fashioned game of call-and-response: Every time the frontman inserted a new animal or thing into the song's verse (as in "I can be bear" or "I can be a warrior Indian") the crowd had to respond with the appropriate noise (in this case, rrrroarr, roar and yee yee yee yeee). Which they dutifully did, smiling all the while. Talk about blasé...
The Lips proved they are more than their reputation. Despite how crazed and strange the band can be, they're really romantics who just want to change the world with a little peace, love, and rock 'n' roll. "Everyone always tells me The Flaming Lips play to the greatest audiences that can ever be," Coyne said before the band's encore, an ecstatically beautiful "Do You Realize??" which had everyone in the building singing along. "And it's true. They always bring the most energy, enthusiasm, and love-and that's really the stuff that can change the world." Now how weird is that?
Meanwhile... Brooklyn's Fang Island opened the show with a good dose of enthusiasm themselves. Sporting three guitarists with a phalanx of Orange amps behind then, the quintet turned out rah-rah fight songs full of major-key melodies, hearty sing-alongs, and stunning guitar harmonies. Their Andrew W.K. meets Thin Lizzy sound was a little confusing for the Lips fans, who aren't the head-banding sort. But they couldn't deny Fang Island's righteous flag-waving, particularly when, by the band's epic closer, some dude (presumably a member of the band's entourage) was actually onstage waving a giant orange flag. Wayne would be proud.
1. Intro Jam
2. "Worm Mountain"
3. "Silver Trembling Hands"
4. "She Don't Use Jelly"
5. "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"
6. "The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine"
7. "In the Morning of the Magicians"
8. "I Can Be a Frog"
9. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1"
10. "See the Leaves"
11. "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung"
12. "Taps" (cover)
13. "The W.A.N.D."
14. "Do You Realize??"