Jedi Mind Fuck: Flaming Lips Live Supernova in North Carolina

May 17, at the Fillmore in Charlotte, NC: blitzed madness ensued…

By Michael G. Plumides, Jr. / Photos by Justin Kates

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips exudes rock star. He’s the guy that talked Oklahoma into adopting his tune “Do You Realize” as their state song. He’s the man who can take 45 minutes for a sound check while you’re crammed stage front like a sardine and later you thank him for it. Wayne is the likeable anomaly of rock; his persona – concert maestro, his attitude – bemused ringmaster, his presence – electric madman.

Coyne, with long time band mates Mike Ivins, and Steve Drozd have now spanned three decades with their disjointed aural assault. But the band’s development has come in a series of phases. I bore witness to The Lips as an obscure 80’s sludge-metal outfit teetering between Smack and Die Kreuzen (opening up for the likes of SST’s Black Flag in punk rock shitholes across the US) with early releases Hear It Isand Oh My Gawd, garnishing hero worship from my old alma mater at WUSC-FM and like college radio stations across the country.   Their shiny happy 90’s alt-rock silliness splooshed their first hit for Warner entitled, “She Don’t use Jelly”.  At the turn of the millennium, Coyne and Co. enjoyed dancing on the periphery of universal pet band status for a few light years with releases The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.   But the band cosmically exploded supernova-style and were jettisoned to mega-stardom after the release of the perennial At War with Mystics in 2006.

Following Mystics with the noisy Embryonic, Flaming Lips now enjoy jaunts appearing at the biggest music events in the world. They represent the new pseudo-psychedelia, gladly inheriting the mantel from Pink Floyd performing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety at festivals last year (at Bonnaroo – overwhelmed by the heat I slept through it in my motel room like an idiot).

The Lips brought in the heavy artillery; armed with the biggest fucking disco ball I’ve ever seen transcending from the heavens like the Death Star. And let’s not forget a light show that would give the execs at Enron a heart attack, Wayne, after warning the crowd of their infinite power, began his journey down the rabbit hole. Coyne appeared in his plastic bubble as the band consumed the Fillmore – Charlotte with a barrage of sound that likely rattled the triptychs of Stonehenge with “The Fear” following with “Worm Mountain.”

Once released from his poly-cell, Coyne sang into his camera-microphone projecting HD close up streaming images on the rear panel fifty feet or so, behind Kliph Scurlock, the percussionist who joined the Lips in the 90’s.  Each side of the stage was adorned by leggy Dorothy Gales from Kansas replacing yesteryear’s Roswell aliens and Santa Clauses in a “Wizard of Oz” motif that would leave any red-blooded American guy wanting to peel back the curtain and take a peek. There were giant dancing bears and toads, balloons and streamers all amidst the deafening music making for, as Wayne described to Billboard, a “big, elaborate freakout” or more specifically, “some new gadgets and things to freak out with.”

And the band played on… and on. “Is David Bowie Dying” which recently popped up on their latest EP 2011, was followed shortly by “See the Leaves,” “The Ego’s Last Stand” and of course 1993’s “Jelly”, an acoustic “Yoshimi”, the Meddle-esque “Pompeii am Gotterdammerung”, “Race for the Prize” and the aforementioned Okie theme song “Realize.”

Coyne, thankful and gracious as ever, feels the need to take on a little of that KISS ethos.  You go to see the Flaming Lips and you get your money’s worth.  The band is chaotic to the ear live in a screaming X-wing jet fighter kind of way, but the melodic interludes coupled with their blistering wall of sound make for a pleasurable, if not ear-ringing night.

On the way out, I spied a Flaming Lips t-shirt at the merch table with a black and white nude woman cradling a skull in one hand and holding two fingers up as if absolving the crowd as they exited. Posted over her head was the line, “Flaming Lips: Peace and Punk Rock”… for $40.00.  Rock star, indeed.  You’re Goddamn right. Give the people what they want.

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