The Flaming Lips | Noise Pop 2012 | S.F. | Review

Words & Images by: Annelise Poda

The Flaming Lips :: 02.21.12 :: Bimbo’s 365 Club :: San Francisco, CA

The 20th anniversary of the San Francisco Noise Pop festival continues through this weekend. Click here for a full schedule of events.

The Flaming Lips by Annelise Poda
It’s that time of year again when San Francisco music fans rejoice, for Noise Pop, the annual citywide music festival, is back in action and also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Organizers have brought top talent, newly breaking bands, and mind sparking exhibits to San Francisco for the last twenty years, and 2012 is no exception. Up to fourteen Noise Pop events a night are scheduled at clubs throughout the city, and the only thing fans can really complain about is that they can’t be at multiple venues at once. Tuesday marked the kickoff of the weeklong festival, and it went off with a colossal confetti gun bang, as Oklahoma psychedelic rock heavyweights The Flaming Lips performed at the historic Bimbo's 365 Club. It’s a rare treat to be able to see such a notable act that boasts a cult-like following in such an intimate venue, and fans that were lucky enough to score tickets as soon as they went on sale knew that this would definitely be a show to remember.

The Flaming Lips are known for their highly theatrical stage presence and elaborate instrumentals that complement sincerely heartfelt lyrics covering a wide variety of subject matter from battling robots to spider bites. At this show, they played through the entirety of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. This in itself was a great experience, as frontman Wayne Coyne would pause between tracks and provide extra insight on why he wrote these songs. He explained that the album is about how the world is full of terrible things we can’t control, but that people create their own happiness to persevere through life. This is the same man that I once saw in a video making screen printed posters with his own blood as the ink, and it was great to hear some off-the-cuff thoughts of such an eccentric artist.

The Flaming Lips by Annelise Poda
The show started off quietly with the sound of chirping crickets, and the crowd quieted down and turned their full attention to the musicians gathering on stage. After multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd played through the soft piano chords of “Sleeping on the Roof,” the whole venue erupted in a storm of colored confetti and fog blasting from giant cannons that went off in unison with the chorus of the next song, “Race for the Prize”. Oversize balloons were thrown out to the crowd and the party began. Coyne stopped in the middle of the song and instructed the crowd to scream like they were having the best orgasm of their life when the music kicked back in, and everyone enthusiastically obliged when he yelled, “C’mon everyone! Let’s all fake this orgasm together!” Coyne said that he was happy to be back in San Francisco, and that it is great to play through this whole album and give the songs new life and meaning, and that this night was going to be all about singing, laughing, and love.

As the set progressed, more electrifying props were introduced that visually overwhelmed the audience. At one point, Coyne put on two giant gloves that shot laser beams out of the palms onto nearby mirrors as the band went off on a pulsing, hypnotic piano and guitar riff jam, taking the crowd on a mesmerizing trip. Band members regularly switched to a wider array of different instruments than I’ve ever seen played at a rock show before, including a neon harp, a full-size gong surrounded by flashing lights, timpani drums, and even a modified Theremin that had been tricked out to look like a six-legged bug. The recorded version of The Soft Bulletin is packed full of multi-layered lush instrumentals, and The Flaming Lips went above and beyond with these additions to re-create that feel and have it sound even more amazing in a live setting.

The Flaming Lips by Annelise Poda
In my opinion, the most unique songs of the night were the emotional ballad “Waitin’ for Superman,” which featured just Coyne and Drozd on guitar and piano, respectively, and “The Gash,” which had a mighty reverberating bass part that hit your chest while Coyne dramatically pounded the flashing gong. The song felt very spacey and heavy, which contrasted with most other Flaming Lips tracks. I doubt they play it live very often, and getting to see performances of rare tracks is definitely another cool aspect of having the band play through an entire album. They finished the set by returning full circle to way it started with “Sleeping on the Roof,” which Coyne accurately described as ending the night with a “peaceful and triumphant feeling”. The cricket track came back in, but the crowd was anything but quiet this time, as they erupted into deafening applause and elated shouting.

Full minutes of raucous cheering brought the band back to the stage along with the Noise Pop organizers to take a bow. The Flaming Lips stretched the rules of playing only The Soft Bulletin and ended with their signature song, “Do You Realize??”, which caused the whole venue to seriously go wild and sing along to every word while being continuously assaulted by rainbow paper from the confetti guns. Coyne said that music is his God and that this time that the band has together with the audience is a gift, and he definitely created a very special Noise Pop night for everyone in attendance that will not soon be forgotten.

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[Published on: 2/24/12]

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