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The Roy Wilkins Auditorium is a unique venue for seeing a band. It has a hollow, gymnasium vibe, which makes sense given its history as a boxing venue. The last time I saw The Lips was outside, after a massive rain storm at the Minnesota State Fair. It was a setting that fit the band perfectly, and I couldn’t help but long for the cool summer breeze while sitting in the bland auditorium. But the band did their best to brighten up the setting. Singer Wayne Coyne serves as ringleader and master of ceremonies, directing the action from center stage. The other freaks flank him at all sides, providing the cacophony of sound, while a handful of “dancers” crowd either side of the stage, each of them dressed in furry orange outfits. The stage itself is littered with gadgets and contraptions, most of which were designed by Coyne himself. There are a pair of giant hands fitted with laser lights, four confetti cannons, dozens of streamer-shooters, bullhorns, cameras, Wayne’s “space bubble”, dozens of giant balloons, and numerous other toys.
Before we get to the music, I’d like to very briefly mention the opening act, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, also known as “The Worst Opening Band John’s Ever Seen.” Look, I usually give extra attention to the opening band, as I’ve discovered great music as I wait for the main attraction to begin. And hey, I love freaky music. I mean, I’m at a Flaming Lips show, after all. But there was nothing to like about Ariel Pink and his little freak show. I assume it was intended to be a freaky, funky, 80s new-wave-throwback, but it came off as a put on. From Ariel Pink’s homeless, male prostitute outfit (clogs and white sox with some sort of silky, plaid short-suit) to his prissy on stage demeanor, to his painfully out-of-tune voice, this guy was like Perez Hilton’s more obnoxious little brother. I hear he’s a pretty intriguing performance artist who’s captured the attention of people I respect, like Animal Collective. But last night in St. Paul, I just didn’t get it.
Back to the Flaming Lips…
Most of the set list included tunes from their trippy album Embryonic, which, admittedly, is less accessible and not as instantly recognizable as tunes from At War with the Mystics or The Soft Bulletin. In fact, they didn’t play a single song from The Soft Bulletin, which was a bit of a disappointment for me as I consider that to be one of the top five albums ever recorded. Nevertheless, the Embryonic tunes played well, and much “heavier” than I expected. The band also tossed in a few favorites like “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Yoshimi Battles the Robots”, saving the big favorites like “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Do You Realize?” for the encore (see videos below).
One standout point of the concert was just before they played I Can Be a Frog, and it seemed to encapsulate the entire experience of seeing this band. If you haven’t heard this song, hit this link. It’s basically a tripped-out children’s song. Wayne explained to the audience that he was going to say a word and would like the audience to then act out that word. For example, when he says, “I can be a frog”, the audience should hop and “ribbit” like a frog. He described it as “not a sing-a-long”, but a “weird-a-long.”
And that, my friends, is what it’s like seeing The Flaming Lips. It’s creepy, strange, joyful, emotional, trippy, and oddly communal. There are freaks everywhere, dressed up like ducks, stars, wearing togas, neon crowns, and decked out in sparkles and makeup. But in this setting, they seem oddly normal. And you leave with a strange sense that music is magic.
I shot a couple videos from my seat last night, both during the encore. Sorry for the video formatting, but I’m keeping it huge.
First up is “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”.
And finally, this is why people see The Flaming Lips. What a wonderful moment…