Flaming Lips: Live Last Night

flaming lipsWayne Coyne: Surfin' U.S.A. (Photo by Katherine Frey)

(Also see: Earth Day Concert's Stage Becomes a Soapbox on the Mall by J. Freedom du Lac; re-live yesterday's events in real time over at Post Rock's Twitter account. Become a follower while you're at it.)

Live Last Night

The Flaming Lips headlining a concert on the National Mall in front of tens of thousands of people seems like a hallucination. The acid-damaged Oklahoma City psych-rock veterans have ascended to near-rock-stardom after a quarter century together; yet they remain a uniquely bizarre band -- and certainly not one you would expect to perform in the shadow of the Capitol.

But that was exactly the scene Sunday, and the group didn't let the venue dictate the details of the performance.

After an afternoon full of sometimes heavy-handed environmental messaging, the Lips still fired tons of confetti into the audience, sang through a megaphone that spewed sulfuric smoke and used oodles of electricity to power inessential items such as a strobe light, a neon-flashing gong and a smoke machine.

But there was nothing defiant about their actions. All of those elements are just part of the band's arsenal and are necessary to achieve the self-proclaimed "exaggerated optimism" of a Lips show -- one in which weird songs with even weirder lyrics are performed as unifying, triumphant anthems.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Frontman Wayne Coyne serves as the giddy ringmaster of the Lips' sideshow revival. Before the band played a single note, he had already embraced Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson with a pair of cartoonishly large hands and crowd-surfed through the first dozen rows of fans inside his now-standard plastic bubble. Each song over the next hour was like a mini-performance-art piece.

Opener "Race for the Prize" saw Coyne launch confetti and streamers into the audience; he quickly noted that if everyone at Earth Day on the National Mall truly cared about the Earth, then they'd have no problem picking it all up. (Er, sure.) Madonna cover "Borderline" started as a calm dirge before erupting into a gong-bashing celebration. People (presumably) in caterpillar and sun costumes appeared on the side of the stage halfway through the set and remained there. Right next to the troupe of swiveling, teenage girls from a Bethesda dance studio. Just another day in the land of the Lips.

The over-the-top ridiculousness of everything is delivered with such smiling sincerity that it's hard not to get caught up in the good vibes. Songs such as "Race for the Prize," "Lightning Strikes the Postman" and "She Don't Use Jelly" were like psychedelic circus romps -- oddball pop songs with extra bounce. Coyne repeatedly strained to reach the highest notes, but that imperfection only added to the very human element of the wacky and winning performance.

Get tens of thousands of people gathered at a cause-related event and there's a good chance a sing-along will break out. Maybe it will be, "Give peace a chance." Maybe it will be, "We shall overcome."

On Sunday, the masses sang, "Yoshimi/They don't believe me/But you won't let those robots eat me." And somehow it seemed just as poignant.

--DAVID MALITZ

By David Malitz |  April 20, 2009; 6:47 AM ET Festivals , Hippies , Live Last Night
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It was uniquely odd, and fun. Will have to keep track of the next time they come to town.

Thank you Seth and the IMP folks for making a great, and very odd, event.

Posted by: EricS2 | April 20, 2009 6:02 PM

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