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Flaming Lips Play Unplugged-ish At Denton’s NX35 Showcase

March 15th, 2010 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Uncategorized · Wi-Fi

From the get-go, let me say that the Wi-Fi network at the Flaming Lips concert in Denton, Texas was sub-standard … because there wasn’t one.

No worries. Most of the audience was toting 3G and 4G phones … and I think their messages were mainly photos and “look at me at the Flaming Lips concert” texts … so that was probably sufficient.

But, if you read this blog, you know I expect to find Wi-Fi everywhere. Not to mention, The Flaming Lips are notorious for high-tech stunts with personal audio devices passed among the audience … or multiple recordings played at once in difference cars or on different boomboxes to orchestrate an original piece of music as all the pieces come together at once.

Can one really know what to expect from The Lips? No doubt this concert stop was an unexpected pleasure for many.

The Flaming Lips played to help grow NX35 — an upstart music and technology conference in Denton, home to a world-famous UNT jazz lab and a perennially cool alternative scene.

Ha! … so anyway, there was No-Fi last night, and the electrical system was a bit touch-and-go as well. (Bless Denton’s up-and-coming-festival hearts, it is somewhat comical that one of the festival sponsors is the local electrical utility … I digress …) More than a couple of times, the entire sound system/light show went dead, cutting short Wayne Coyne’s intro — the singer’s signature walk over the heads of the audience in his own personal bubble.

HaX2! … I have to say, I thought Coyne looked like he was about to freak out, at first, when he was 30 yards deep into the crowd, in his bubble craft, and the lights went out. He hauled bubble back to the stage! I mean who wouldn’t — considering an unpredictable crowd might overreact.

But cooler heads prevailed and Coyne regained his composure immediately.

In addition to his showmanship, singing and pure charisma … I tag him with a new description — Crowd Whisperer, to coin a phrase.

Things could have gotten nastier than a Who concert. (I haven’t seen an official estimate, but there were probably 5,000 people there, ready to see one of the premier live acts.) It was written on every face. Everyone wanted a $35-per-ticket show, even though admission was free.

Not to worry. Coyne keeps a bullhorn on hand … probably more for creating a synthetic voice, old school .. But it works for public address too.

Showman Coyne grabbed the horn and made light of the power outage … in the language of the kids … with lots of f-bombs to win them over.

Perhaps his best line — something about a house 3-4 blocks away, where a woman was apparently firing up a toaster oven and knocking out the power at Denton’s North Texas Fairgrounds. Let’s just let her have a little toast and then we can get on with the show, he said. (I paraphrase.)

Power shortages aside, what a great show. The Flaming Lips are just fun! Their show is about 50 percent really creative, pulsating music, 30 percent performance art, 20 percent Cirque du Soleil and now, 10 percent crowd control. (Yes, I know that doesn’t add up.)

Well … any great showman knows some of the best theater is theater of the mind. So, Coyne told the crowd what he would have done IF things had gone as planned — explaining how he would have rolled/walked over both sides of the audience. Then he instructed the audience to imagine it as if it had happened and to pretend it was somewhat miraculous and the best thing they had ever seen.

Everyone laughed and did as they were told. The power came back on, and The Lips kicked out the jams with all of the M-F bombs one could ask for.

Although it is written that Coyne no longer partakes, there were numerous references to, if not encouragement for, smoking weed during the night, much to the chagrin of the sponsors and police, I am sure. The police probably frowned a bit too when some freak jumped on stage in front of Coyne, ran toward the crowd on this little runway and attempted to dive in for some crowd surfing I presume. LOL … the crowd just sort of parted and the dude hit the dirt, on his knees I think. That had to hurt …

But the big take away for the evening, according to Coyne, was love — with a Beatl-esque reference to getting back what you put in.

Also, there was a melancholy moment as Coyne and the band lamented a friend who recently took his own life. Coyne summarized that people can choose to take control of their own happiness. Good stuff.

Anyway, it’s pretty hard for me to say exactly what we heard during the show. At times the instruments drowned out the vocals … and I wont lie, I simply don’t know the Lips catalog. (I estimate only about one third of their music is on iTunes, fyi.) I am relatively sure none of the songs played were – nor even resembled — Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush,” the cover version that turned me on to this band in about ’89.

And of course the band goes back even further, and there have been numerous personnel changes, changes in vocal styles, label changes, bad luck streaks … and purportedly, much more financial success across the pond.

But regardless, who don’t know them some Yoshimi!

“The name is Yoshimi … black belt in karate … discipline her body …yada, yada …”

Yoshimi on Wikipedia

Arguably, The Lips are still considered a cult band of sorts, after all these years, but 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” was said to be critically acclaimed and commercially successful (certified gold). Ha … even I knew that one.

“Yoshimi” may have been the highpoint of the show as the band played that “hit” complete with martial arts kicks from band members and dancers alike at the appropriate points, with most of the audience singing along.

So … anyway, I would have to borrow the song list to rattle off everything … Here’s more info on The Flaming Lips site:

This I do know. The visual spectacle was so engrossing — high tech lighting (when working), confetti cannons, mechanical birds, dancers who looked like they had dressed themselves from a Lady Gaga consignment shop. It is no wonder that The Flaming Lips are acclaimed as one of the “50 Bands You Must See Before You Die.” (BTW, who sees bands after they die?)

So … there are more photos, if interested, on Flickr: PingWi-Fi, Flaming Lips Photos

Also, no doubt in my mind that opening band StarDeath and White Dwarfs from Oklahoma (as are The Lips), opened everything with a Black Sabbath classic. I don’t know which left a bigger impression on me, the Sabbath cover or the woman throwing up in the grass near the stage, although the show had just begun. Oh .. Get this … Head dwarf Dennis Coyne is the nephew of one Wayne Coyne … AND, did I detect another cover version – Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life”???

StarDeath and White Dwarfs

For the record, Denton-based, Euro-favorites Midlake, played second on the bill. As you may know, they have about 20 guys in the band (exaggeration) and about 19 beards (fairly accurate) — all of which comes together for some multi-textured mellow-ish jams. Kind of Iron & Wine meets Fairport Convention. Nice.


Typically, I give ratings when I visit a Wi-Fi hotspot. But other times I rate whatever suits m — case in point. The Flaming Lips, this new NX35 and free concerts in general all deserve high marks. I would have said perfect score for the concert even without Wi-Fi … but I deducted one point. The Flaming Lips just aren’t meant to be unplugged — 6 pings.

Know what I sayin?