Flaming Lips at Merriweather: Lots of Streamers, Not Enough Classic Hits
Oklahoma's Flaming Lips have subverted expectations of how a "rock" band should sound and behave for so long that the most radical thing they could do at this point is perform an hour-and-a-half set of songs absent psychedelic videos, Yeti-costumed cheerleaders or Mini Cooper-size balloons full of confetti.
Still, no one was complaining at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday night when the Lips turned up to stage a v. 2009 Exploding Plastic Inevitable with circus wagons full of Yippie ephemera in tow. Frontman Wayne Coyne was onstage 20 minutes before the show began, helping to set up gear in full view of the tri-generational crowd. (A big cheer erupted when he unpacked the plastic bubble he would soon inflate and enclose himself in for the customary walk-and-roll above the mosh pit.) Thanks to a carefully positioned door in the back-of-the-stage video screen, showcasing the spectral gyrations of a nude female fire-dancer, Coyne's band mates made their entrances via the, um, birth canal to slam into the euphoric opener "Race for the Prize."
That dizzying decade-old standard was one of the quasi-hits among a light-tripping baker's dozen that included four from the Lips' 2006 album, "At War With the Mystics," along with a pair from their upcoming release, "Embryonic." The second of the new songs, "Convinced of the Hex," with its dense polyrhythms and blurts of Eastern-accented guitar, was the evening's musical showstopper. Yet it was predictably upstaged by singalongs of the absurdist anthems "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" and "She Don't Use Jelly."
Coyne, who frequently gestured while clutching fistfuls of the streamers falling everywhere, observed near the end of the 95-minute set that the crowd was a sea of smiles, and so it was, save for when he called for everyone to flash a peace sign while he played "Taps" in protest of the war in Iraq. (A few concertgoers conspicuously sat on their hands, demonstrating that Flaming Lips fandom is a big tent.) Still, there was no getting around the sense that the tunes too often felt more like a soundtrack to the onstage carnival than the evening's raison d'être. It's a fun show, but with a fewer beach toys and more selections from the Lips' very worthy songbook, "extraordinary" could be within reach.
-- Chris Klimek