Did anyone else have a religious experience at the Ryman the other night? The converted church, hallowed ground where the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams once graced the stage, hosted the Flaming Lips’ amazing freak out of a rock show on Wednesday, and it was pretty much The Greatest Show on Earth.
It was if they’d squeezed an arena show into a small club, and you were front and center for the entire thing. My ears are still ringing. Before they launched into their heavily psychedelic, molar-rattling performance, frontman Wayne Coyne had some words for the audience. Some of you may have problems with the strobe lights tonight, especially those in the front. If you feel you’re having trouble, a word of advice: don’t look. He also advised the floor seat section to put down their beers, because the giant inflatable space ball Coyne likes to ride around in during concerts would be making an appearance tonight. So please, if you would be so kind, hold him up.
With that, the band (who set up their own instruments, in a pre-show soundcheck designed to make you feel like you’re going mad) slammed into interstellar overdrive, and Coyne rolled over the heads of the front rows in his human hamster wheel, until he was standing virtually face to face with the people in the balcony. Giant multi-colored balloons fell from the sky, confetti and streamers rained down on the audience, and a cadre of female dancers dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz flanked the stage. All per usual for a Flaming Lips show, who seem to treat every eve like it’s New Year’s Eve.
The band played their vintage radio hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” early. Coyne incited the audience to sing along, which in the case of the two girls directly behind me, wasn’t such a good idea. I was also sharing a pew with two silver-haired tourists who had never heard the Lips before, and had somehow wandered in from the street. They ended up staying for the entire thing, with big smiles etched on their faces. And who would want to miss this? We were all transfixed by the lights, the fog machines, the lasers, and Wayne Coyne himself, a shamanistic figure who at times gave off the aura of a white Bob Marley.
The Lips gave impassioned performances of songs from 2009’s return to form Embyronic (a personal favorite), The Soft Bulletin, and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Band MVP Steven Drozd, the Keith Richards to Coyne’s Mick Jagger, provided much of the sonic texture, playing keyboard, guitar, and at one point, a souped up iPhone. The whole thing ended in an orgasm of confetti, and Coyne thanked the crowd for being “freaks” and remaining on their feet for the entire night. “Well, this turned out to be the greatest show you could have seen,” he noted, before calling the Flaming Lips audiences the best audience in the world.
The opening act, Sean Lennon’s Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, were suitably jammy and psychedelic, evoking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with their military-themed outfits. They were the perfect appetizer for the orgy of awesomeness to follow.
(Photos: Rick Hawkins)