The Flaming Lips returned to Montclair’s Wellmont Theater last night to a packed audience, a mixture of passionate fans and out-there fanatics dressed in skeleton body suits and Santa Claus outfits, wearing home-made eye ball hats, and donning blood splattered body paint.
The show began at 8 PM, with opening act Julianna Barwich, a musician from Missouri, now Brooklyn based, with music best described as experimental and ambient folk. Similar to what Grimes does today, Juliana conjures for the audience a single piece of music using loops of her voice and other instruments. Julianna’s set was lush and atmospheric, as she stood alone on stage and from her voice, created songs that told a story with no words, but rather the pulsing of her voice. Her method reminded me of artists like Elizabeth Fraser and Bjork, who often in their songs use their voice’s fluctuations to convey an emotion rather than a concrete idea. While many were anxious to see the Lips take the stage, I found Juliana’s set to be a fitting accompaniment to the somber, sedated aura that is The Terror.
And at 9 PM, the band took to the stage, beginning their set with The Terror’s opening song, “Look…The Sun Is Rising.” But there was no grand entrance from a hypothetical space ship, or Wayne Coyne rolling atop the audience in his iconic space bubble. Instead, it was a bleak performance, with Wayne standing atop an elevated microphone stand, surrounded by small black domes, and tubed LED lights which spilled colors from the mic stand to different areas of the stage, like some kind of cyberpunk anime. As Wayne stood far above the audience, he cradled the doll of a baby in his arms, often kissing its head and talking softly to it as if to comfort it.
For those used to the old Flaming Lips shows, this change was a remarkable one which I think helped wake the audience up to the themes behind their new album. Changing up what is expected of them, they demanded the audience take notice of the emotions being communicated in their new catalog. And they played this out further, directing the audiences towards feelings that were different than their usual outright blissful-and-happy. Songs like “Race For The Prize” and “Do You Realize,” normally both played to levels of excessive ecstasy, were performed like ballads. By the end of “Race For The Prize,” the band finally gave in and gave the audience an orgasmic end, but not before having toyed with them about when and how that end would come.
The Terror took up the bulk of the night’s set, but the inclusion of “One More Robot – Sympathy 3000-21” and a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” were met with zealous energy by the crowd. For the encore of “All We Have Is Now,” the closing track from Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, the band lowered the bass, and with every beat, the deep sound shook the floor along with the rib cages of every crowd member. They closed with “Always There, In Our Hearts,” as the bass grew to an even greater pulse, and the lights lowered from the ceilings inches above the waving hands on the audience.
Although so many of the set’s songs were more serious and more melancholy than usual, the bands attempts to connect on an emotional level with the room showed an effort that not many bands other bands are capable of. The Flamings Lips did something even more different than before, and in doing so, allowed the audience into their creative process, and to change along with them in a live setting as they change themselves. As the show ended, and the lights came up, I was surprised to see the floor caked with black confetti, when I was expecting a rainbow.
Look…The Sun Is Rising
Silver Trembling Hands
Try to Explain
Race for the Prize
Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die
One More Robot (Sympathy 3000-21)
“Heroes” (David Bowie cover)
Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)
Do You Realize??
All We Have Is Now
Always There, In Our Hearts