The Flaming Lips, Cloudland Canyon @ Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, 28Jul2011
Ever since the fluke hit of "She Don't Use Jelly" put The Flaming Lips on the map, and the boombox experiments that eventually morphed into The Soft Bulletin put them in a position to turn their cerebral sketches into physical reality, Wayne Coyne and the band have been stretched to the point of trying to out-do themselves on a continual basis. In the process, their songwriting has stagnated a bit, and their over-the-top stage show has become semi-ossified. Last year's Embryonic helped shake off the crust of the increasingly treacly songs, and showed a return to their deranged/damaged psych journeys of the pre-Warner days. This influx of creativity also helped shake up the setlist from the ennui of predictability, though it could still use some vigorous mixing to include even one song from the first several records.
As anyone who's seen the Lips play over the last few tours, you know you'll get the space ball/crowd walk, the blasts of confetti, the side-stage locally-recruited dancers, the retina-scorching strobe lights. It's all there, a spectacle that even blind people can sense. Well before the show began, Coyne was on stage and addressed the crowd like a counselor at a mutant holiday camp, giving some advice, caution, and in general a combination of good-natured rambling and bonhomie. "Worm Mountain" fed the euphoria from the start, a riotous clash of throbbing bass and percussive clanging that would put the just the right amount of torque on Frankenstein's neck bolts while Coyne was rolling over the rows and rows of people in his plastic orb. He was relentless as a ringleader, constantly urging the crowd into a frenzy, the Wizard of Oz-themed dancers on the side playing right along with him. The highlight was the intense throbfest of "See The Leaves," though the unbridled enthusiasm and optimism of "Race For The Prize" and "Do You Realize" is hard to argue against, no matter their set list ubiquity. It's great to see that a band can unfurl a great rock show like the psychedelic warriors of yore from decades gone by, and still be current to the tastes of 50 year olds and teenagers alike.
Cloudland Canyon is no stranger to psych journeys with a decided Krautrock bent, and pretty much used their thirty minute slot to play an extended jam with no interruptions. The remnants of daylight was probably too stark a setting for their unobtrusive stage presence, but the projections behind them, using the Lips LED screen, were right on. The groove was established and not veered from, and if you closed your eyes and drifted into the warm evening air it was a very pleasant experience. That said, their drummer was the epitome of an emotionless metronome; I never saw Jaki Liebizeit but I did see Steve Shelley bang the shit out of his set while playing Neu! songs as part of Hallogallo so I do know that pure, emotionless detachment isn't a necessity when stoking the percussive engine of kosmic musiche.