Here's what you need to know about the Flaming Lips' performance on Monday night (July 26) at Rumsey Playfield in New York City's Central Park: When the time came for the show to start, the members of the band not named Wayne Coyne emerged from behind a video screen on which was projected a kinetic technicolor nightmare of a woman laying back and spreading her legs, giving the illusion that the rest of the band was crawling out of her birth canal. It was a nod to the Lips' amazing 2009 album Embryonic, but it also offered up a fine introduction to a night of eye-popping visuals, brain-stretching jams and enough confetti to celebrate a Super Bowl victory.
"This night is f---ing perfect," Coyne announced at the top of the show following his now-customary climb over the audience in a giant inflatable hamster ball. He wasn't necessarily talking about the music but rather about the weather, as the oppressive summer humidity had dissipated long enough to create a warm, breezy summer night. It provided the ideal backdrop for the Lips' set, which was heavy on the amorphous material from Embryonic. On the album, the melodies float several layers below the surface and are constantly teased out by the adroit production abilities of Dave Fridmann. In a live setting, the band let the fuzz do the talking, and allowed most of the tunes to build into swirls of distorted noise and churning beat science.
The set opened with two drawn-out versions of Embryonic tunes, and both "Worm Mountain" and "Silver Trembling Hands" have clearly become live favorites for the band, counting on the swirling, buzzing hum of bass and white noise that provides the undercurrent for Coyne's musings. Though he preached a lot about love and optimism during his between-song banter (which is his general worldview), there's a lot of darkness lurking in the songs from Embryonic, which when combined with the orange-robed dancers and psychedelic imagery, gave the evening a dangerous, cult-like feel.
Those still-euphoric moments were broken up by hands-in-the-air singalongs like "She Don't Use Jelly" (which still sounds as weird and thrilling as it did when it was a hit 17 years ago), "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Other highlights included the bombastic "See the Leaves," the rolling "The W.A.N.D." and a spirited, spry "Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung."
Though Coyne's sense of rapture and jubilation is infectious, it took roughly half the show before he ended up on the same page with the crowd. Perhaps they didn't know the Embryonic tunes as well, or perhaps they were just distracted by something else entirely. It seems impossible that you could go to a Flaming Lips show and carry on a casual conversation with the person next to you about how messed up you are, as throughout the show Coyne rode on the shoulders of somebody wearing a bear costume, fought an inflatable anthropomorphic catfish, explained to the crowd the various animal noises they needed to make during "I Can Be a Frog" and gave long, weaving monologues about the nature of dreams and how he's still sort of angry about the George W. Bush era.
By the time the band closed with the ever-swelling smash "Do You Realize??" (which was delivered in a bit of a rush because of the looming 10 o'clock curfew), they were just like their audience: Exhausted, elated, covered in confetti and surrounded by stage smoke. A cool breeze seemed to carry the Flaming Lips off the stage and into the darkness of Central Park, perhaps wafting into their home dimension, waiting to strike again whenever anybody needs to be freaked out.