Review: The Flaming Lips light up a circus of weirdness at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg
Twitching with the tics of a prizefighter, tufts of fur spouting from his trim gray suit, Wayne Coyne willed the crowd to his level.
“You’ve got to keep screaming!” he yelled as the Flaming Lips opened their show Tuesday at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg.
The courtyard screamed, and they and they kept screaming as Coyne slowly drew notes from his players, his arms sweeping wide like a music-mad despot. And if you were there, confetti swirling and balloons bouncing and CO2 billowing around you as the Lips launched into the euphoric Race For the Prize, you would’ve screamed too.
It’s been 10 years since a legendary Flaming Lips show at Jannus that remains one of the best I’ve ever seen, and in that time the Oklahoma City alternative oddballs have tripled down on the psychedelic trippery-frippery that makes them such a wonder live. Their albums (like this year’s decent Oczy Mlody) are hit and miss; their gimmicky merchandise (like a bar of fetus-shaped, Froot Loops-scented soap, $150, on sale by the T-shirts) increasingly loony.
But boy, oh boy, look at all those balloons!
Much as he did in Tampa at the 2014 Gasparilla Music Festival, Coyne pulled out an enormous silver “F--- YEAH ST. PETERSBURG” balloon for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1, a song that saw him dancing and cavorting with inflatable cartoon giants. Then, for There Should Be Unicorns, he skipped offstage and rode, yes, a neon unicorn through the crowd, singing and high-fiving fans all the way. And all that was just in the first three songs.
It’s a gonzo, go-for-broke approach shared by openers Clipping, an alt-rap trio fronted by Tony-winning Hamilton rapper-actor Daveed Diggs. Backed by a curtain of strobing, blitzing lights, Diggs spit ridiculously fast lyrics over William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes’ grinding, dystopian beats. There was a booming Magic City madness to Work Work, Body and Blood and Taking Off, albeit dosed with an acid tab of Krautrock.
“If you feel uncomfortable, just bounce,” Diggs laughed before splattering the audience with a hail of verses on the manic Wriggle. As if to make everyone feel cozy, Hutson and Snipes spliced in a half-second of Tampa’s own Khia’s My Neck, My Back. Local references! Yay!
Speaking of local references, before the show Coyne, 56, tweeted about visiting the “always inspiring!!!” Salvador Dali Museum — no surprise there, given his obsession with surrealism and physiology and Gondrian mise-en-scene. It’s a weirdo-creepo aesthetic to which he’s totally committed, bringing one oddball trick or another to nearly every song..
Coyne slaughtered a gong on Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung. On The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power), he flapped around in a shiny foil blanket, colorful lights splashing off his body. On a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, he entered a human-sized hamster ball and rolled across the audience, glowing not unlike a star child himself.
The Lips behind him were costumed, too, albeit not to Coyne’s degree. (Two nice touches: Matching day-glo orange nail polish all around, and bassist Michael Ivins’ custom Tampa Bay Lightning jersey.) They were there to knit together the band’s outer-space sound, from the morphine groove of How?? to the dreamy The Castle and deep Beach Boys trip of Are You a Hypnotist??.
The end of the night brought more costumes and confetti, but also more feeling. The Buzz Bin hit She Don’t Use Jelly spawned a good ol’ fashioned Gen-X sing-along, while the fragile and earnest A Spoonful Weighs a Ton, Waitin’ for a Superman and Do You Realize?? served as reminders that the Flaming Lips could once make you cry.
You wondered, in those moments, if all those balloons, all those colorful lights and cartoonish costumes and arena-sized inflatables, have ultimately hindered, not burnished, the Lips’ legacy. But then you remember Coyne said something. You remember that after an inflatable rainbow arose to span the stage on the wordless The Observer, Coyne asked the crowd for a round of applause for the band’s “rainbow crew.” (Yes, the Flaming Lips have a rainbow crew.)
“This is to remind you that when you see an actual rainbow, and not an inflatable rainbow from China, you should pause and remember to thank whoever the f--- it is that makes that thing in the sky,” he said. “We are so lucky that the rainbow works at all.”
Indeed we are. For that, you really do have to keep screaming.
-- Jay Cridlin