I know it’s been said a ton, but today’s Flaming Lips aren’t 1983’s, 93’s or 2003’s Flaming Lips. Gone are the days of trading a few hits of acid for a case of beer or lounging on my fainting couch or watching the drummer change a snare head in mid-song or seeing Wayne Coyne three times in a few months live and noting he was wearing the same black LevisTM and dingy charcoaled tee. But now you can buy a Flaming Lips usb flash drive inside a pot-smoke infused gummy skull for $1,200 or download a song that is longer than the Gettysburg address and a Kardashians marathon. I guess all I am saying is times have changed a lot for me and The Flaming Lips. But never fear, the Lips brought the latest version of themselves to Forecastle Festival in support of their latest “The Terror”--and frighten the dirty hippies in attendance, they did.
After they hit it alterna-big with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and had ground the tour bus rims into the pavement, they took a more deconstructive path (through addiction) towards making rock music by adding layers of lush, psychedelia-packed arrangement and odd storytelling to become America’s weirdest “big” band. The elaborate live shows have become mythic as they have headlined every major festival in the world in the past decade.
Forecastle’s performance lived up to the hype even if most were not sure what to do during many of the tracks taken from “The Terror." Coyne’s cuddling and coddling of a baby connected to tubes and their usual use of lighting made for something somewhere akin to Lars Von Trier meets 60s Stanley Kubrick at Andrei Tarkovsky’s house for ribs and acid with the hum of a Moog hung up in a jet engine warbling on the 8-track.
Gone is the “fun” even though Coyne urged the audience along by repeating, and nearly begging the crowd “don’t be sad.” Personally, I got it. It all works, but accessible it wasn’t. The couple in front of me, him in a Charles Barkley throwback Suns jersey and doo rag and her in a bikini top and dirt-dragging sarong couldn’t find the parts of the show suitable for the weird String Cheese dance they wanted to do. It didn’t take long for me to move closer; as the seconds of multi-layered dirge turned to minutes, they were looking for some with a little more zazz that could bebop to. Sadly, for me no “Jesus” songs on the setlist but a healthy dose of “The Terror” and “The Soft Bulletin” as well as a cover of “Gates of Steel” by DEVO left me wanting more as the set ended with “Always There…In Our Hearts.” I pondered the future as seen by The Flaming Lips, terrifying and beautiful for some, terrifying and lacking little to dance to for others, but I will take Wayne’s cue, I won’t be sad.
Catch The Flaming Lips around the country through late August and again in October.
Gallery and video of Flaming Lips, Forecastle 2013, by Alex Sardam