Flaming Lips at Hollywood Forever Cemetary 6/15/11


Photo by markdnger via Flickr Creative Commons.

“Well, the moon was there earlier, and now it’s just… gone. I don’t know what the fuck happened.” Wayne Coyne is, as far as we can tell, trying to take place for a lunar eclipse that has taken place as a result of the band finishing their set with a song titled “Eclipse.” From my own vantage point, I can see the moon, seen earlier glowing full and round, has indeed disappeared, and I have to say “holy shit!”

In reality, I can’t tell whether there’s even been an eclipse or it just suddenly got cloudy. Nevertheless, if the Man Behind The Curtain has the power to make us all THINK he just caused the moon to fall out of the sky, then of course it actually happened regardless of the physics. Long live the Flaming Lips, the only band ambitious enough to actually pull off a stunt like this.

For at least fifteen years, stoners ‘round the world have spoken of the odd symmetry observed while listening to Dark Side Of The Moon and watching the Wizard Of Oz. These fearless explorers have taken this moment of accidental collaboration and run with it, bringing to Hollywood Forever Cemetary a re-imagining of Pink Floyd’s classic album that adds songs from the Oz movie into the song sequence, with their usual army of fursuit dancers replaced by a troupe of Dorothys, Cowardly Lions and Tin me (Scarecrow costumes had evidently all been rented out.). Presented in a natural amphitheater with picnickers on blankets trailing up the spacious hillside, a powerful sound system, and a remarkably laid-back vibe among the audience, it made for a particularly special night out in LA.

The Flaming Lips have a long history of presenting oversize spectacles on stage, keeping it weird by clinging to an old-fashioned sense of showmanship that draws equally from the traditions of Pink Floyd and the Butthole Surfers – they do things big, but in an appealingly low-budget way. Their approach to the Floyd album is about what listeners would expect – fairly faithful to the arrangements, but over-driven and boisterous where Floyd was restrained, and using MacGyver techniques to simulate the effects that took producer Alan Parsons a dog’s age in the studio to achieve. Case in point: Stephen Drozd does the hypnotic instrumental “On The Run” with his mouth, underneath his rack of keyboards, aided by a couple of digital delays and effects boxes.

But their extended cover version remains true to the original in spirit, gets big and portentous in the same places, and relaxes in the same places. They even bring out Peaches to reprise her stunning, soulful vocals for “The Great Gig In The Sky” and “Brain Damage.” However, the Lips’ version does have a slightly different dramatic ebb and flow now that their hyperactive Disneyfied version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” opens the proceedings, and “Brain Damage” is preceded by “If I Only Had A Brain” – ha, more symmetry! It was good fun, worthwhile for anyone who likes the Floyd record, but also inspired and zany in ways that a straight Pink Floyd cover band could never be.

It was also a particularly strong night from the Lips performance wise. I had cooled to them as a live act around my third show on the Yoshimi tour, at which I witnessed Coyne soldiering on for far too long with a shredded voice, while the band were flat-lining, playing along to tapes and lacking something in the realm of live-ness. They have since expanded their touring lineup and moved away from the days when 100% of the show was pre-recorded, and the difference in the energy and dynamic coming from the stage is plain. Coyne is in great voice, bellowing when he wants to, going high and delicate without losing pitch.

Once eclipse-related matters were out of the way, the band returned for about half an hour of oldies, bypassing their recent double set Embryonic in favor of the even more recent internet release “Is David Bowie Dying?” along with a handful of other fan favorites and hits, of course closing with the epic “Do You Realize?”, a song contemplating death and life, performed in the middle of a graveyard, a pre-planned moment of serendipity that nevertheless delivered. It was a fitting emotional capper for a mind-expanding evening. 

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