Live: The Flaming Lips Bring Their Cannons, Their Crowd-Surfing Bubble, And Their Monkey Impersonations To Central Park


Flaming Lips
Monday, July 26
Central Park SummerStage

Not to gas on at length about the weather here, but holy shit Monday night in Central Park was just gorgeous, idyllic and temperate and absurdly perfect, especially given the endless string of hostile broil-or-soak-or-maybe-both disasters that’ve typified the 2010 outdoor summer concert season. Wayne Coyne, cheerful and reverent as ever, announces that he feels like we’re all back in the womb. Which is appropriate, given that his bandmates, via some video-screen trickery, had been made to appear to enter the stage through a glowing psychedelic vagina. Whereas Wayne himself was too busy doing the old Human Hamster Ball trick out in the crowd. There was also, of course, confetti, shot out of multiple cannons. Lots of confetti.

In your darker moments you can wonder whether the Flaming Lips are trying too hard, whether the endless visual oversaturation (naked ladies onscreen! an army of orange-clad dancers on both sides of the stage! gratuitous smoke-machine voluminousness! the neon-ringed gong!) is meant to mask the lack of… something. Maybe just attention. (Coyne’s favorite word is “c’mon,” as in c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon, constantly goading us into a reaction as raucous and outsized as his band’s action.) But it’s more or less impossible to actually have a darker moment on a night like tonight, even when the music itself turns harsh, malicious, unsettling: Last year’s Embryonic is a bit of a psych-sludge slog on disc, but in person those tunes, stoner-rock to their bottomless core, provide nice, jarring notes of discord amid all the cheery, whimsical pop that’s made the Lips’ latter-day fortune: “Do You Realize?” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and even that old saw “She Don’t Use Jelly.”

Absolutely nothing from The Soft Bulletin tonight, which is dismaying, but the Lips have amassed such a gargantuan back catalog that something’s bound to surprise/delight you: Consider “In the Morning of the Magicians,” from 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a tender acoustic-guitar-driven philosophy workout (“Is to love just a waste?”) and a faster, beautiful electro-funk instrumental mashed haphazardly but somehow perfectly together. And then there’s Embryonic‘s “I Can Be a Frog,” a childlike call-and-response in which we are exhorted to impersonate en masse a jaguar, a tornado, a locust, a breeze, a monkey. Several times, Coyne makes us practice the monkey. If it were 20 degrees hotter and/or pouring rain maybe we would find this a little infantile. But it’s not, so we don’t.