Thursday, April 27, 2017


APRIL 21, 2017 was like...being inside of a kaleidoscope. No, that's not it...

OK...remember the interstellar ending of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), when the astronaut travels through a psychedelic wormhole? Yes, it was kinda like that. not quite...

OK, I have it was kind of like being inside of a rainbow, and dear readers, it was absolutely, unbelievably beautiful and I already want to go back!
Over the course of this blogsite, I have written reports of my concert experiences that have expressed over and again the joy and importance of being able to see live performances that dazzle and enthrall solely through the power of sheer musicianship and are not reliant a bit upon any sense of visual spectacle. 

From Lindsey Buckingham's intimate, skeletal solo performance I saw several years ago which served as a Master Class in how to sculpt a live show to the extraordinary Zappa Plays Zappa tour from last year, during which I was superbly lifted in being witness to some of the finest musicians on the plant playing some of the most impossible music so fluidly and brilliantly, just the act of seeing musicians and singers performing their chosen craft at the peak of their powers was more than enough for me--especially during this age when spectacle rules the day and often to the detriment of actual talent (it still stuns me that lip synching is not even questioned anymore let alone ridiculed).

All of that being said, I am not throwing down any gauntlet against any show that serves a more theatrical presentation. In fact, how I wish that I could have seen Pink Floyd, for instance, in their heyday, where the music and the visuals worked in tandem, creating a one-of-a-kind experience that blasts you away when you're there and furthermore, rivets itself into your memories. I have always wished to see a show like that but have never really had the chance. I've never seen U2. I've never seen Prince. And actually, even when I did see Todd Rundgren (on three occasions), the differences in each of his shows were more musical than overtly visual. In fact, the most visually explosive shows that I have seen achieved their goals mostly through some video screen effects and stunning stage lighting (Rush, Garbage and Tame Impala, all come to mind).

In the case of The Flaming Lips, who arrived in Madison's legendary Orpheum theater (a location that I am still getting used to existing as a concert venue as it served as a movie theater for many years long ago), the equally legendary band delivered a show unlike anything that I have ever experienced before--and honestly, dear readers and listeners, I mean EVER!

Before April 21, 2017, I had never seen The Flaming Lips, yet I have been more than aware of their iconic reputation regarding the carnival-esque nature of their live performances from props, lighting, balloons, and of course, the giant sphere in which bandleader Wayne Coyne inserts himself and rolls into the audience. Even so, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on this night--a concert that merged the visual, musical, emotional to even the spiritual to mammoth effect, creating what just may have been the very best concert that I have ever seen. Like I said before, it was absolutely beautiful.
After striding past the two giant mushrooms, proudly upon display next to the soundboard, a sight which made me laugh out loud to myself, I made my way to the front of the drenched in blue light stage and readied myself for the event. But before The Flaming Lips, there was the opening act and this one was a stunner.

Tabor Allen: Drums
Sasami Ashworth: Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesizers
Clementine Creevy: Lead Vocals,  Guitar
Devin O'Brien: Bass Guitar

Before the entered the stage, I had not ever heard of the band Cherry Glazerr but by the end of their 35-45 minute set, they became wholly unforgettable and a band that I am already anxious to hear more of. They were truly one of the very best opening acts I have ever seen.

Despite their unassuming appearance as they walked onto the stage--especially keyboardist/vocalist Sasami Ashworth, who with her sandals and knapsack upon her back, looked like a college student who had just stumbled out of the dormitory and into class--the four members of the band approached their opening act set as if they were a gang ready for a street fight.
Over the course of their twelve original songs, Cherry Glazerr blasted through their material with a ferocious energy that merged the genres of dark psychedelia, progressive rock, indie, punk rock and metal audaciously, effortlessly and with a skill that suggested material by The Doors, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin.

Yet, what struck me most of all, notably during the body slamming gut punches of "Nurse Ratched" and "Apocalipstick," was their resemblance to the earliest years of The Smashing Pumpkins, as the vicious darkness of Cherry Glazerr's music made me recall the doom and swagger of those alt-rock giants.

Band leader/vocalist/guitarist Clementine Creevy was compulsively watchable as her guitar fireworks and explosive, fitfully in motion stage presence ensured her rock star status superbly, as far as I am concerned. Drummer Tabor Allen unleashed his inner John Bonham as his booming, pummeling percussion sounded like cannons.
Cherry Glazerr treated their set with a take-no-prisoners attitude that was riveting to experience as it was as powerful as it was somewhat combative (Ashworth even exited the stage by delivering a seethingly petulant middle finger to the audience). This was a HUNGRY band in action, performing music armed with the sound of thunder and an intense confidence that found the group owning the stage as if The Flaming Lips' set was their very own.

Derek Brown:  Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Wayne Coyne: Lead Vocals, Guitar
Steven Drozd: Guitars, Keyboards, Synthesizers, Drums, Backing Vocals
Matt Duckworth: Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Jake Ingalls: Keyboards, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Michael Ivins: Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Nick Ley: Electronic Drums, Percussion, Samples

Yet even with the powerhouse that was Cherry Glazerr, even they could not have prepared me for the night's main event. For that matter, even knowing about some of The Flaming Lips' bag of theatrical tricks and treats beforehand, did nothing to prepare me for the astounding sense of wonder that would unfold over the course of the following 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Before I knew it, The Flaming Lips, now seven members strong, entered the stage. I stood at the lip of the left side of the stage, directly in front of singer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, adorned with a rainbow colored cape and who stood behind several keyboards and synths, with guitar and even a vocoder and talkbox in tow.  At the opposite end of the stage stood co-founding member and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Michael Ivins. Surrounding both Drozd and Ivins were newer band members guitarist/keyboardists Derek Brown and Jake Ingalls as well as two drummers, Nick Ley (who handled the more electronic beats) and Matt Duckworth (who bashed away at a more traditional trap set), and were both decorated with matching neon wigs, making them appear as if they were the band's requisite "Thing 1" and "Thing 2."

At the center of the stage was the night's ringmaster/dream weaver, The  Flaming Lips' bandleader/chief vocalist Wayne Coyne, who was a most gracious host for the entire show, smiling from ear to ear consistently, and appearing to be held in triumphant spirits overall, making his mood infectious for the entire audience of the Orpheum.
And so, after a fairly lengthy preamble, which was successfully designed to build excitement, the show began with an astounding dynamism. Smoke machines, a sky full of falling confetti and enormous balloons filled the Orpheum as the blazing, brilliant light show illuminated the stage as the band opened with the glorious "Race For The Prize." 

A "WOW!" moment if there ever was one, my mouth dropped open in amazement at the sights of the confetti and balloons, my ears filled with incredible music augmented by the excited screams of the audience around me. I was hit repeatedly by balloons, which I then batted around myself and I felt my face explode into the widest of smiles for THIS was undeniably a universe of unadulterated fun, which did not let up over the following selections, the hip-hop influenced dream pop of "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1," which found giant cartoon characters upon the stage dancing among the band, swirling lights and balloons, and the darkly brooding party-at-the-end-of-the-world wishlist "There Should Be Unicorns," the first performed selection of the night from the band's latest album "Oczy Mlody" (released January 13, 2017), a song which found Coyne wearing a set of rainbow wings and riding, of all thing, a unicorn directly into and around the audience as he sang as laser beams danced over our heads.
For song after song, most of the material culled from the beautiful trilogy of albums "The Soft Bulletin" (released May 17, 1999), "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" (released July 16, 2002) and "At War With The Mystics" (released April 3, 2006) plus the aforementioned "Oczy Mlody," The Flaming Lips dazzled constantly and superbly, miraculously ensuring that every selection possessed its own specialized visual component, ensuring the reality of one eye-popping surprise after another.
A gong, when struck, detonated the stage into blinding blasts of light during the Floyd-ian "Pompeii am Gotterdammerung." Synthetic animated hearts danced across the large movie screens during "The Castle." Dancing eyeballs grooved on stage to "The W.A.N.D." Coyne performed a lovely guitar piece during "The Observer," while standing underneath an inflatable rainbow and engulfed in streams of light. Yet for as awe inspired fun as every special effect happened to be, I was gradually undone by how subtly the images became increasingly poignant, as they richly and seamlessly merged with all of the music, superbly performed and sung by the entire band.

I am certain that for the more cynical, the special effects and attractions would be viewed as existing as cheesy and corny accouterments designed to distract the audience from the music. That the concert was nothing more than spectacle over substance. Yet to that, I wholeheartedly and passionately disagree as The Flaming Lips proved that pyrotechnics and special effects, when utilized properly, can not only enhance and provide an even broader definition to the already wonderful music, the effects can weave an inexplicable spell that allows the music and the event overall to become a work of transcendent art, completely filled with purpose, a message, and a current of uplift, that if you allowed, it would carry you to emotional terrains you previously hadn't planned to visit during a rock concert.

It was because of the visuals that I realized just how meticulously plotted The Flaming Lips concert actually was. The songs were sequenced magically, with the bright symphonic pop songs giving way to a deeply profound and existential melancholy that is as individualized as it is universal as the band tackled subjects that carried veiled political (yet wholly non-partisan) statements plus songs that explored our own sense of isolation, pain, sorrow, hope and hopelessness, to even our own mortality and the reality of living in the NOW to the absolute fullest as the nature of life itself is so unforgivably brief in the grand scheme of looking at the human race's place in the universe and the cycle of existence.    
For me, everything came together as a galaxy of stars softly flowed from the screen and into the audience, as if we were viewing outer space in a 3D realism while the band played a quiet, almost lullybye-ish song conjuring a feeling on interstellar loneliness. And then, Wayne Coyne emerged, smiling widely from inside the giant ball, which soon descended into the audience who then lifted Coyne up highly as he sang. The song was David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and allow me to tell you that The Flaming Lips' performance was so wonderful, I think that even Mr. Bowie himself would have smiled in pride and appreciation if he were able to have heard it.
The juxtaposition of emotions during this song were palpable to say the least. To find myself within such an enthralled collective of strangers, all witnessing and hearing this letter perfect cover version of a rock classic as a veil of stars seemed to float all around the room and with Wayne Coyne himself, hoisted above the crowd as he sang wistfully, made me realize all over again that David Bowie was gone, which then further made me think about Prince, who had passed away exactly one year ago to the day, which then made me think of everyone in the room--from the band to all in the audience--realizing the one stitch of commonality between us all: one day, we will all find ourselves at the moment during which we will die, yet here we were in this beautiful point of a shared existence. Needless to say, tears welled up in my eyes.
For other songs of the night, from the booming "Are You A Hypnotist??," the pensive "How?," the shattering "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," and all the way to the fragile "Waiting For A Superman" (which Coyne plainly described as a "sad song," and was performed solely by himself and Drozd sans even one special effect) and the band's signature anthem, "Do You Realize??," The Flaming Lips continued to ascend to greater heights while providing one tender-hearted yet defiant grace note after another.
"Defiance" and "grace." Yes, that's it. Defiance and grace or even so...gracefully defiant! That is possibly the best way to describe the emotional release I felt from The Flaming Lips' outstanding concert.

For all of the outlandish fun (yes, Wayne Coyne did indeed toss a enormous "FUCK YOU MADISON" balloon into the audience early in the show), it was through the arrangement of the music plus the visuals that drove the messages straight into my heart. The concert felt entirely communal and inclusive. It was the grandest of parties where the band were participants as well as the most gracious hosts, and as previously mentioned, Coyne was relaxed, confident and again, all smiles throughout the entirety of the night.
The Flaming Lips ensured that everything was laid out for all of us. Certainly the psychedelic atmosphere and then some! But for the substance, the inner workings and content that spoke to the soul...well, it was all there in the music, and I am unable to stress the content enough.

Songs of Science and spirituality, power and powerlessness, existential heartache, musings and melancholia plus themes of hope, fear, the inevitability of our impending mortality and the euphoria of love, all of which culminating in the undeniable truth of this very shared moment, this connective tissue of the ephemeral spirit of music binding us together with the hopes of proving some sense of harmonic convergence...even if only for the duration of their show. Politics were never mentioned but most certainly implied as the plea for humanity and empathy were paramount to me.

I wondered if my emotional response to the show was mine alone. Yet, by the night's final song, I looked over to my immediate left to see a teenaged boy, possibly 17 or 18 and attending the concert with his parents, completely overcome with feeling. He was hunched over, shoulders heaving and he was openly sobbing, his face streaming with tears.

As I was exiting the Orpheum, grown adults and longtime fans also carried faces with puffy eyes from crying and slack jawed smiles of amazement at the night we all s hared. I even saw fans hugging each other openly smack in the middle of State Street, all offering words of the wonderfulness of the show. Again, for all of the cynics who would decry against the spectacle, to them I say simply and emphatically, "The spectacle fucking worked!"
The Flaming Lips delivered a concert experience that was blissfully overwhelming, completely unforgettable and stupendously one-of-a-kind as I have never seen a show of this sort in my life. It more than exceeded any expectations that I could have harbored and it is an experience that wish that I could re-live.

Like I said at the was absolutely, unbelievably beautiful and I sincerely wish that all of you have the opportunity to take a voyage with The Flaming Lips so you can experience it for yourselves.
All photos taken by Scott Collins

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