Show Review: The Flaming Lips with Ariel Pink and Thee Oh Sees at The Fox Oakland, 10/1/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on October 2, 2010

Everything's exploding!

Everything's exploding!

By this point in time, the average music fan who knows about The Flaming Lips and their colossal live shows has probably heard absolutely everything. This is not simply referring to the vast amount of positive-sounding adjectives and awestruck expressions on the faces of fans, but, moreso, the absolute hugeness of their performances. It seems only appropriate to give them as great a berth as possible, in order to have some hope of maintaining the glorious, wonderful chaos that is a Flaming Lips concert; thus, it was bizarre but also incredibly exciting to the Bay Area when the band announced that they would be playing in Oakland’s majestic Fox Theater. Demand was so high that tonight’s show sold out within days; this prompted a second date to be added, with a new set of opening acts. Frontman Wayne Coyne, in his pre-show address, commented that the theater was gorgeous, and that for their next tour, they would attempt to play on the ceiling itself.

The unbridled excitement for the evening’s headliners was present in full form in San Francisco’s thrashy-dancy indie rockers Thee Oh Sees. Not being content with only having a thirty minute set, the band didn’t take their opening slot lying down, cranking their energy to the highest possible level in the small space they were allowed onstage. Frontman John Dwyer thrashed wildly about, plunging his guitar alternately across their small onstage area and into the floor below, while the rest of the band rocked out with impressive vigor. The same level of energy could not be seen as readily in Los Angeles retro rocker Ariel Pink and his backing band, most likely due to many of their songs being of a slower tempo and a heavier mood. The great billowing clouds of fog that were regularly sprayed out onto the stage added to the very psychedelic atmosphere, however, and for two songs, the band was joined by members of the Flaming Lips: Stephen Drozd on guitar and Kliph Scurlock on drums. This seemed to wake the crowd up from their half-mesmerized stupor, and was an excellent way for the band’s set to come to an end.

One factor about a headliner that distinguishes them from an opening band is how elaborate the stage setup and lighting is for the main act when compared to the first bands of the evening. The Flaming Lips’ setup took this rule to incredible extremes; whereas the opening bands simply had colored lights that swayed and danced over them, Wayne and his crew had brought their massive, hemispheric screen, surrounded on all axes by strobes and blazing white lights, but this time with a larger set of tube lights ringing the exterior. Also again present were many boxes of lights onstage, and every single piece of gear onstage was bright orange. To top things off, the band came onstage to do their own sound check, with singer Wayne Coyne playing head roadie and checking each mic and monitor along with the members of his crew.

As the band’s onstage presence during their setup got the initial wild screams out of the crowd while the house lights were still up, it was necessary to up the ante for their actual arrival onstage. When the first psychedelic animations blazed across the titanic screen, this method became readily apparent: the center of the screen opened up, like a door, and each member of the band strode down an orange ramp to the edge of the stage to take a bow before assuming their positions. Wayne, of course, was the exception: he slipped under the ramp into his giant plastic “space ball”, and after it had filled up, he threw himself into the crowd and rode it, “hamster-ball style” across the hands and heads of the tightly-packed fans across nearly the entire floor section of the Fox Theater. Once Wayne had returned to the stage, the mayhem that had already been going on in the form of opening number “The Fear” smashed its way into the slow, dark bruiser “Worm Mountain”. Confetti cannons erupted, smoke blasted across the stage, the lights danced on and off like a magnificent thunderstorm, a pile of dancers dressed in orange costumes grooved on either side of the stage, and finally, a positive wall of gigantic balloons found themselves flung into the theater, soaring nearly all the way up to the ceiling and covering the theater in all the colors of the rainbow.

And this was just the first song.

Having already set the bar ridiculously high within the first ten minutes of their performance, the Flaming Lips continued to drive the show with a colossal amount of energy. One of the dancers was dressed as a bear, and Wayne Coyne climbed onto its shoulders to sing the dreamy words of “Silver Trembling Hands” amidst the still-bouncing wall of balloons. Early in the set, the band broke into a classic performance of “She Don’t Use Jelly”, accentuated by Wayne running across the stage to fire off streamer guns at every corner of the theater. After the initial dumbstruck-wildness of the opening number, the crowd’s energy seemed to dwindle much faster than the band had anticipated; however, most of them came back to life with shouts and roars for “I Can Be a Frog”, each line of which involved the imitation of an animal or object, and the entire theater was joined in a delicate sing-along for “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1”.

Though it was admittedly hard to match the explosiveness of the onstage insanity that had kicked off the set, the band shocked the crowd again after a wild performance of the huge, dense rocker “See The Leaves”. Wayne marched onstage with gigantic hands fitted over his own (gigantic in the sense that they were at least half his height, probably much larger), and after the two disco balls that framed the sides of the stage had dropped down to a visible height, a shower of green lasers fired out of the palms of the hands. This brought out stunned gasps and furiously excited screams from the crowd as the lasers danced back and forth, seeming to find their way into all angles of the theater. Offsetting this massive level of visual stimuli was the band’s performance of “Sagittarius Silver Announcement”, which was performed with every single light on stage turned off, and the band saturated in a thick cloud of fog while the song droned through the theater.

The band’s enthusiasm carried through every inch of their set. Stephen Drozd brought his gorgeous psychedelic sounds wailing through the theater with minute precision, while drummer Kliph Scurlock and bassist Michael Ivins maintained a solid rhythm section throughout. Easily the biggest point of fascination was frontman Wayne, who spent the entire night with a great grin on his face and seemed to think that any moment not spent covering the theater in confetti, streamers and smoke was a moment wasted. Constantly, he expressed his love for the crowd, the theater, and the evening that they were sharing together, and all of these statements seemed most heartfelt during their encore, “Do You Realize??”, which ended with its final verse being sung by Wayne and the crowd together, while the screens, lights, and turbulent party-favor weather danced around them.

Having only seen the Flaming Lips twice, but also having known about the wildness of their performances for many years, it would seem unfair for me to say this, but I will anyway: This is the best show the Fox Theater has ever had. From both opening bands who did their best to be respectively wild and then dreamy onstage, to the headlining act that simply blew the doors off in every fashion but a literal one, to the wildly positive energy that Wayne brought with every note that he sang, this was a night that will always be remembered, even after the last bits of confetti are swept away.

The Flaming Lips' setlist

The Flaming Lips' setlist

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve October 2, 2010 at 11:00 am

Agreed, the show was unforgettable. Easily one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a show.

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Hanumansboi October 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Unbelievable show, I’ve spent all morning trying to find the name of the second act they blew me away! Thanks for posting this! This was my 5th Lips show and while it was spectacular you should really see them out side when they play a place with no ceiling things really get wild. I posted tons of pics from last night check’em out if you want http://www.flickr.com/photos/monkeearmada/

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Dan October 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Do you know if Lady Gaga was actually one of the dancers like Wayne said?

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