Before Sunday’s 9:30 Club appearance by the Flaming Lips, there were signs posted throughout the venue warning patrons that strobe lights and lasers would be used during the performance. Yes, they were used. Throughout the 100-minute sensory stew, delirious fans also encountered: confetti cannons, smoke machines, light-up gongs, oversize disco balls, blinking streamers, colored balloons, and lots and lots of pastel spotlights and giant inflatable objects.
Not since Gallagher, the comic famous for smashing watermelons with sledgehammers, has an act been so happy with its props as the Flaming Lips.
The intentionally goofy Oklahoma-based band, opening a sold-out two-night stand in the District, has never been a chart-topping machine; the Lips’ most successful single, 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly,” didn’t make this show’s set list. But along with a blatant gift for melding melancholy melodies with industrial beats, the guarantee of grandiosity has kept the band a serious concert attraction more than 30 years into its career. These days, the prop arsenal often gets unleashed upon outdoor festival crowds; but frontman-ringleader Wayne Coyne didn’t pare things much at all for the club gig.
For example, Coyne ended the serene “What Is the Light?,” a trippy fan favorite from 1999, crooning beneath a giant inflatable rainbow, the way Mick Jagger toyed around with a massive balloon phallus during vintage Rolling Stones arena and stadium shows.
The Lips are touring behind “Oczy Mlody,” their 14th and latest album, and introduced several tunes from the record, including the profane and downbeat disco number “There Should Be Unicorns,” which Coyne sang while riding around the packed floor atop a colorful unicornmobile. There was “How??,” a techno-esque song that sounds like “Tron”-era Neil Young, which was presented with subwoofers blasting low-frequency fuzz at the audience at liver-bruising volumes. “The Castle” was a somber ballad that Coyne performed while wearing a huge dinosaur-looking outfit of the sort that might have been worn by Peter Gabriel during his days with Genesis, the last art-rock ensemble to be so enamored with costumery.
“Waitin’ for a Superman” was the rare tune presented without bombast. But Coyne sang it while wearing what looked like a huge pair of puffy white wings, saying the song, which tells earthlings that Superman might not be able to save them this time, was too sad to sing without accoutrements.
There were homages to David Bowie, overtly and otherwise, throughout the night. As the band faithfully covered Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Coyne stepped into a huge airtight bubble (long a favored Lips prop), which he rolled atop the crowd from the stage all the way to the rear of the club and back. And the Lips sent folks home swooning with “Do You Realize??,” a dose of serenity from 2002 that sounds like Bowie meets Burt Bacharach.
Coyne seemed almost overwhelmed by the crowd’s blissfulness, thanking everybody up front for “smiling the whole time.” He’d given them lots to smile about.