By the time Wayne Coyne climbed atop the towering, fiber optic-lined mic platform whilst cradling a baby doll in his arms, it was apparent this wasn’t going to be your typical Flaming Lips show.
Of course, “typical” is a tricky word to use when discussing the Lips, a band whose elaborate live shows have in the past included giant puppets, giant prop hands and a person-sized plastic bubble in which frontman Coyne traverses the top of his crowds.
Still, Thursday night’s set at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay broke from the theme of their exuberant interactive playgrounds, instead inviting fans to step into a throbbing chrome-and-LED cavern that was as ominous as it was awesome.
As Coyne wailed over the opening drone of “Look...The Sun Is Rising,” a stream of lights pumped through the umbilical cord-like cables around the mic, which continued down onto the stage and back up around the rest of the band, while womb imagery pulsed on the LED walls around them. It was like something out of Alien, if Alien took place at Electric Daisy Carnival.
Each song in the 90-minute set, which culled heavily from the Lips’ dark, operatic new release The Terror, had a distinct lighting and visual theme synced up to its notes and rhythm, producing a complete aural and aesthetic saturation that rivals, if not trumps, any high-end DJ production on the Strip.
Given the band’s penchant for larger-than-life outdoor performances, cramming the festival-sized production into the intimate House of Blues made for a somewhat awkward execution. Had Coyne opted to bust out his plastic bubble, we’re not sure how far it would’ve gone, or whether there would’ve been enough people to hold it up. Fans can thank Bud Light for that, who hosted the night’s “50/50/1” event, for which 50 bands played in 50 states on one night (which, if you think about it, isn’t really that remarkable, considering it probably happens anyway). Be it the sponsorship, the space or the competing (and cheaper) Edward Sharpe show at the Cosmopolitan, the Flaming Lips show lacked the usual cadre of hipsters and Gen Xers, instead bringing in a thin crowd of bros, Midwestern casino dads and girls in too-short denim skirts, who were, at least, very polite—more than we can say for most crowds we’ve encountered at House of Blues.
Critics of the band’s psychedelic pop cheer may want to make a point of catching this tour. While still full of Coyne’s trademark Muppet alien antics (a sack of confetti and an LED wand joined the baby doll among his stage props), the set largely saw the frontman take a backseat to the droning bass and synths of tracks like “Always There, In Our Hearts” and a terrific slowed-down cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel.” Save for a pared-down abridged version of “Do You Realize??”, the set was light on hits (sorry, no “Yoshimi”), leaving room for the band to sink their teeth into showcasing new tunes.
Live, tracks like “Turning Violent” and closer “Always There” were less of the contemplative soundscapes they are on their recordings and more carnal all-out jams, spotlighting a jaw-rattling rhythm section akin to Hail To The Thief-era Radiohead or My Bloody Valentine. As Coyne raised his arms above the glowing platform, cutting a haunting figure backlit by strobes, the echo of the last song’s closing lines made for a fitting final refrain: “Joy and progress, overwhelmed/Overwhelmed, overwhelmed/Overwhelmed, overwhelmed.”