To call the performance by the Flaming Lips at the 9:30 club Sunday night a concert is to call the Mona Lisa simply a painting or Michael Jordan just a hoopster. This was an event -- a happening, even -- that felt like the rock-and-roll equivalent of a revival meeting.
With video playing nonstop on the screen, giant balloons bouncing among the capacity crowd, confetti spraying, strobe lights blinding and hand puppets weirding everybody out, the show felt like the work of people who've spent most of their waking hours watching cartoons and nibbling on hallucinogens. Surreal and sublime, it was an event by turns joyous, sad, funny, bewildering and ultimately redemptive.
And that was certainly the Lips' intent. As the Oklahoma City band walked onstage, accompanied by 20 or so fans dressed in animal costumes (don't ask), a giant screen behind the stage flashed a message: TONIGHT. YOUR LIFE WILL BE CHANGED FOREVER. FOR THE BETTER.
Phew, that was quite a challenge. Wearing a white suit that identified him as the preacher of this odd affair, Wayne Coyne, the Lips' lead singer and driving force, started the night with "Race for the Prize." Before long the band was on to other symphonic and cosmically moving fare like "Do You Realize??," "Waitin' for a Superman" and "All We Have Is Now."
Although the band did play its minor hit "She Don't Use Jelly," most of the night was devoted to the Lips' two most recent, and arguably best, albums, 1999's magnificent "The Soft Bulletin" and 2002's almost as good "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." Both comic and tragic, the records tackle the gravest of themes, exploring the dark territory of death and despair and, occasionally, saving grace.
These serious songs might seem at odds with all of the bizarre goings-on and frivolity and general weirdness at the show. And yet somehow it all worked. Somehow Coyne convinced you that having fun and delving into darkness can occur simultaneously. Somehow the band managed to be Gloom and Doom and Up With People all at once. Somehow at the end of the blissful experiment, as the sound of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" wafted through the club, it was easy to believe you'd been changed forever. For the better.