Words by Jonathan Zwickel :: Images by Dave Vann
The Flaming Lips & Ween :: 07.22.06 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
I knew from the first note of the first song that this was gonna be the best show I had ever seen. And from there it only got better.
Years of show-going and hundreds of concerts have given me the degree of experience to assuredly say something I've never said before. The Flaming Lips are the best thing going in live music right now – the most inspired, most inspiring, most ridiculous, most profound, most musical, most theatrical. And their Greek Theatre show found them at their best.
The Flaming Lips :: 07.22
You want examples? Like any moment of transcendence, it's tough to enumerate just what made the whole thing so freakin' wonderful. It was far more than just music, I can tell you that. But I'll start by talking about Ween.
Still don't get 'em. So much talent, so little to say. Some would argue they possess a Zen-like quality inherent to any totally shamelessly goofball display of virtuosity. There's another potpourri four-piece who for years noodled goofily across genres and gained a rabid following doing so. People say it's all about the music, or the meaning is in the meaninglessness - to "surrender to the flow," which is fine, if that's all you're after. But there's more to life than music.
Gene Ween :: 07.22
Halfway through Ween's opening set at the Greek, my friend Fi keeled over, a victim of too much heat and not enough water. We hauled her to the clinic at the side of the stage where medics immediately took care of her. She came to and was fine moments later, but there we were backstage while Ween was raging and lead Lip Wayne Coyne was watching from the wings. Another friend walked over to him and mentioned that Fi was so excited to see the Lips that she straight passed out. "Really?" he said, and then he went to where she was laying on the clinic's cot. He knelt beside her attentively, and they spoke for a few moments until she convinced him she was fine. He left telling her to "always have fun" while Fi was astounded at how lucky she was.
Wayne Coyne gets it. Thanks to our encounter with him, it was obvious he gets it before he even stepped on stage. He's a musician who's concerned with more than just music. He's a humble entertainer who orchestrates epic experiences – a celebration of music and art and life and death – so that you and I can have a singular, day-glo memory to carry around with us.
The Flaming Lips :: 07.22
"When you go home tonight, I want you to tell your friends that I descended from the sky above the crowd in this space bubble," Coyne said from center stage, his band behind him waiting to start the show. "It's ok, you can lie." It had just gotten dark and the Lips hadn't even begun, but already Coyne was arranging the post-show story of seven thousand people at the Greek. He squeezed inside his inflated, clear plastic beach ball and wafted out over the crowd's outstretched arms. The audience went wild as Coyne stumbled and rolled over their heads, making it back to the stage just in time for the first notes of the first song – the triumphant "Race for the Prize." Surrounded by 25 or so of my closest friends, San Francisco lights twinkling across the Bay, perfectly cool night air wrapping it all together, I was totally sure after mere seconds: Best. Show. Eva.
Sure, the space bubble is a gimmick, like the confetti cannons, dancing Santas, smoke machines, balloons, and hand puppets. Just for a minute, you'd think maybe that would get old, watching the same set and seeing the same toys every show. Which is funny, because only music fans who (like me) have heard 50 versions of "Piper" or can articulately critique the guitar solo of "Chilly Water" – who are basically spoiled by their total immersion into musical variety – could ever think of getting bored by the Technicolor spectacle that is the Flaming Lips.
The Flaming Lips :: 07.22
And sure, Coyne didn't have the best singing voice and Steve Drozd didn't take 10-minute solos, but man, their baroque wacko-pop electro-rock sounded amazing. The music incorporates a palette of sonics heard nowhere else – altered guitars, subsonic bass, gorgeous melodies. From songs about career-driven scientists, kung-fu robot killers, and alternative breakfast condiments arose the unifying themes of life overcoming death, love beating complacency, going out and doing something instead of staying home and not. The Lips sang of humanity versus larger, ambiguous menaces – a powerfully resonant modern message – and made the case that our humanity is ultimately our greatest power. "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" Yeah, I'm looking around at all my friends and thousands more who do realize, right now, that this is all we have, and we realize just how good it is. And we're all that much stronger because we do.
It's a lot to take away from a 90-minute show, but the Lips pack in way more joy than your average band. It was nice seeing bassist Michael Ivins getting to play with some of Coyne's toys; he donned rubber hands the size of boogie boards for the finale. I could tell you the set list, but it's sorta irrelevant. I think the Lips would be the first ones to tell you that it was more than the music that made the night so spectacular. It was all of us in it together making a memory that's still as bright as it was three weeks ago. I keep meeting people who were there, and we keep agreeing. If there is a modern rock 'n' roll hero, it's Wayne Coyne, and if there's gonna be a B.S.E., this is it.
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