Noise Pop Show Review: The Flaming Lips perform The Soft Bulletin at Bimbo’s 365 Club, 2/21/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on February 22, 2012

Everything's explodin'! (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Everything's explodin'! (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Twenty years. For many fans in the live music scene, this is an impossible amount of time to fathom. The concert demographic, wide as it might be, generally seems to fall between teens and people in their 50s, and if you go twenty years back, you’ve got a whole group of people who weren’t even born yet, to those who were solidifying their first solid years of adulthood. The amount of music, live or otherwise, that has been recorded, performed, and otherwise created in that timespan is magnificent in its breadth and depth. For twenty years, the Noise Pop Festival has helped to bring acts of all leagues and backgrounds to the San Francisco music scene, peppering venues with marvelously-clashing lineups and intimate gatherings that blow the minds of even the most seasoned veterans of the club-hopping world. After twenty years, it’s good to know that the Bay Area can still be stunned, which happened when the Noise Pop folks pulled out their trump card of the 2012 lineup — The Flaming Lips were making an appearance at the barely-700-person-capacity Bimbo’s 365 Club, and were performing their magnum opus The Soft Bulletin from start to finish.

Being drunk on their plan, they lifted up the sun (photo by Nick Buckmaster)

Being drunk on their plan, they lifted up the sun (photo by Nick Buckmaster)

Those familiar with the Oklahoma City-based psychedelic masterminds are no stranger to the absolute chaos that accompanies their live performances. When not in the middle of being swept up in the unyielding enthusiasm of frontman Wayne Coyne, audiences can expect to be bathed in smoke, confetti, streamers, balloons, and lights of a million glorious hues — usually within the first song of the set. Unlike their arena-sized exploits that they’ve been known for holding down as festival headliners, however, it’s impossible to fit that massive screen and feverish animal dancers onto a stage like that of Bimbo’s 365 Club. Instead, the Lips hung a set of streaming, vinelike icicle lights from the fourth wall of their stage to midway across the club’s ceiling, which leapt to life and sent white sparkles dancing over the ecstatic crowd for many songs of the two-hour set. The rest of the time, wave after wave of confetti and smoke was blasted around, and a dizzying display of color lit up the band, who had expanded to a six-piece for tonight’s rendition of their classic 1999 record.

Wayne takes a breath; a moment of pause (photo by Anna Garcia)

Wayne takes a breath; a moment of pause (photo by Anna Garcia)

The intimacy of the venue and show, however, was also not lost upon the band, whose brilliant energy seemed to shine brightly with every song and between each number of the set. Wayne took time to introduce many of the tracks to the crowd, either with a detailed explanation of what the song entailed, how it was crafted, or the many ideas that he and the rest of the band offered and took during their inception. A message of love, beauty and grace was offered from Wayne to all of their fans, coupled with an understanding of the inevitable destruction and ugliness that exists within the world. As Wayne expressed his happiness at being back in San Francisco — which he pointed out as one of the first places to host Flaming Lips shows — there was a deeper understanding and stronger connection felt within the crowd; a personal moment being shared onstage with their wild and jubliant idol, a time of closeness and friendship connected between a set of musicians and their most passionate of fans. Even after all of the streamers and multicolored potpourri had run out of their rainbow-painted cannons, the joy of everyone within the club space had not wavered, not been depleted by a fraction. If love was the drug, the Lips were happy to be the dealers tonight.

Driving home, the sky accelerates (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Driving home, the sky accelerates (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

After a slow, gentle warmup of “Sleeping On The Roof”, every single song from The Soft Bulletin was played, in full, with gusto and panache, coupled with a spirit of playfulness and recklessness. A true treat for the hardcore fans came in the form of “Slow Motion”, an outtake from the album that was only included in the international release, and had not been played at nearly any of the full-album-revival shows that the Flaming Lips had been performing in recent times. For those truly desiring the no-holds-barred, larger-than-life elements from their bigger performances, Wayne emerged in the middle of an interlude between “The Spark That Bled” and “The Spiderbite Song” with a pair of massive foam hands that spouted forth a shower of bright green lasers, which swept back and forth over the bellowing, cheering crowd that had raised their arms in turn. After an emotional and out-of-breath farewell at the end of the second performance of “Sleeping On The Roof” to close the set, the band returned for one final number: “Do You Realize??”, one of the most celebrated anthems of the Flaming Lips’ catalogue, and the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma as of 2009. In addition to being a beautiful, heart-wrenching way to end the night, it was wildly appropriate for the occasion, as its parent record, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary in August of this year.

The Flaming Lips' setlist at Bimbo's 265 Club (photo by Jonathan Pirro)

The Flaming Lips' setlist at Bimbo's 265 Club (photo by Jonathan Pirro)

There is really nothing like a Flaming Lips show, but it is equally impossible to express the gorgeous depth of connection one feels to them when placed in a space as small as that tiny San Francisco club. The experience of one of the most critically acclaimed records of the 1990s (and a personal favorite of mine, as well), combined with the delicate pauses and heartfelt sincerity bellowed out by these six musicians and their instruments — the voice of Wayne Coyne, the guitars of Steven Drozd, the low backing rhythms of Michael Ivins, the pounding percussion of Kliph Scurlock, and the extra world of accompanying sounds from Derek Brown and Ray Suen — made for one of the most personal shows I have ever experienced. It was madness and desperation and joy and laughter gone supernova, and for me, it WILL be remembered — especially in twenty years.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

michaelz February 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Um, Ronald Jones left the band in 1996. The extra musician was Ray Suen.

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Gordon Elgart February 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm

You’re right. Thanks, I corrected this.

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