The Flaming Lips smack Burlington

As the War Pigs trampled away and the audience stood, shocked, gazing in awe at the emptying stage, I couldn’t help but join them. The Flaming Lips have been a staple of my aural enjoyment for quite a while now and I didn’t think they could surprise me anymore. I considered it impossible that Wayne, Steve and Mike could wow me like they did the first time I heard “The Gash.” Yet, there I was, 10:33 p.m. with one barely coherent thought bounding through my consciousness: “What the hell just happened?” So many bands struggle to find an equilibrium between stage act and studio performance – either their albums create an indescribable sound impossible to recreate live (Boards of Canada and other electronic acts come to mind) or their live show is just too explosive to capture in 11 studio tracks (e.g. Phish and their offshoots). Throw “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” onto your iPod right now and tell me you’d ever believe that The Flaming Lips could transform such a vibrant, unique album into a workable live performance. As of the night of the show, I wouldn’t have thought it possible either – I couldn’t have been more wrong. The crowd a-buzz (or buzzed, depending on who you asked), The Lips finally hit the stage slightly after 9, following performances by Oh No! Oh My! and Lake Trout, to a packed Patrick Gym. The band, minus Coyne, began tinkering with their instruments, creating the spacey soundscape you would only expect to emanate from these musicians. With things at their most ominous, Wayne emerged from backstage to a reaction akin to a Saturn V at liftoff.In typical Flaming Lips fashion, Coyne could not simply run onstage and get on with the show. Indeed, he entered stage right within an inflated plastic balloon. Yes, a massive, transparent bubble. More hamster than man, Wayne ran around on top of the crowd, a toy for fans’ bouncing enjoyment. He emerged after a few laps over our heads, grabbed his acoustic and launched into a transcendent, rollicking version of “Race for the Prize” complete with a stage flanked by hordes of aliens and Santa Clauses. From there the show proceeded to showcase a slice of the Lips’ career focusing on the recent. Their newest release, “At War With the Mystics,” made the brunt of the setlist, with “Free Radicals” following up the opener. Coyne encouraged crowed participation and all in attendance sang along at the specified parts. “Vein of Stars” and “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” also made the cut. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part I” was a crowd favorite with Coyne manning confetti launchers, and an audience sung refrain to close out before segueing into Part II. The show, unfortunately, only traced the band’s roots back so far. “She Don’t Use Jelly” was the earliest song from the Lips catalogue played, originally from their early 90s album, “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.” “Jelly,” the band’s one semi-hit, has been played at every show since 1994, Coyne claimed. He went on to explain how they have not grown tired of playing it – seeing the crowd’s excitement during the opening notes keeps it fresh. “Race for the Prize” was the only track off “The Soft Bulletin” to make it to Burlington, unfortunately. With such a hearty library at the Lips’ disposal, why they insist on playing primarily from their (comparatively) subpar recent work is a mystery.Sound problems hampered “The W.A.N.D.” and “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” ruining their ability to energize the crowd. The difficulties were most noticeable during the former where, despite the band’s insistence to play on with partial amplification, the power was sucked out of the room-a shame considering how volcanic the song is on “Mystics”.The show ended on an interestingly juxtaposed note – the set closed with “Do You Realize??” assuring the crowd that yes, life goes fast, but “you realize the sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.” From this optimistic standpoint, the band turned apocalyptic by encoring with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” complete with the massive screen behind the band flashing images of Dick, Bush and Colin alongside wounded Iraqi civilians. A striking way to end the show, The Flaming Lips left the crowd with a bitter, angry message against the powerful to take back to their dorms and peers.Other reviews of Lips shows have criticized the communal aspect of their performances with the tired “I didn’t pay to hear the guy next to me singing!” argument. On the contrary, the Flaming Lips’ music is perfect for the “we’re all in this together”, sing-a-long attitude. In a world of darkness and doubt, The Flaming Lips shine through as a beacon of innocent, brave hope. There is no restraint or self-consciousness in their music. “I don’t think George Bush listens to The Flaming Lips,” Coyne lamented in one of the night’s many rants, “but if he did, he probably wouldn’t be making some of the decisions he is!” Indeed, everyone from politicians to college students should experience the unbridled hallucinogenic joy of a Flaming Lips concert – it’s a wash and wax job for the soul.