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BEING THERE: The Flaming Lips @ Festival Pier

Photos by DEREK BRAD

Last night the Flaming Lips unveiled the more-awesome-than-you-could-possibly-imagine reboot of their stage show, which replaces the happy-happy-joy-joy bliss rallies they’ve been staging for the past decade. Gone are the balloons and blood and bubble-walking and the dancing Santa Clauses and the big hands that shoot lasers. In its place — well, fact is it defies words, you really had to be there — but calling it H.R. Giger meets Hanna-Barbera on the dark side of the moonhenge isn’t that far from accurate. Frizzy-brained frontman Wayne Coyne conducted the proceedings from high atop a lumpy mound-like perch festooned with bifurcated mirror balls and long, winding tentacles of LED lights pulsating this way and that in time to the music. Behind him was a bedazzling beaded curtain of luminous diodes that pulsated and projected things both Freudian and phantasmagoric. The music, too, has changed mightily. Most of last night’s set was drawn from the vast, cold, Krautrock-ian wastes of the new album, The Terror, a desolate, forbidding totem of paranoia, fear and loathing — in short, it’s the feel good bummer of the year. Which you’d think would be tough, if not impossible, to sell to a beery festival audience on a gorgeous Indian Summer night on the Delaware. But if any band can do it, it’s the motherfucking Flaming Lips, 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic from Oklahoma by way of Neptune. And they did it with humor, charm and an unconditional love that renders them more powerful than you can possibly imagine, not to mention uncommonly lyrical and sophisticated musicianship. Even Coyne’s off-key step-on-a-dog’s-paw yelp has morphed into a remarkably expressive and tuneful instrument. This was readily apparent during the float-y, elegiac readings of “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” and “Do You Realize,” that somehow resisted the urge to launch into interstellar overdrive, as per usual. Whenever the music would bog down into long, inconsolably sad passages, Coyne would exhort the crowd to cheer — the sadder the music, the louder the audience must cheer, he said. As if to say, ‘C’mon people, we can get through this if we stick together.’ And so we did. At one point between songs, Coyne nervously eyed the Ben Franklin Bridge looming majestic in the near-distance and worried aloud that some driver would be distracted by the Lips strobe-flashed psychotropic spectacle, lose control and plunge into the inky depths of the Delaware. “If a car drives off that bridge,” he said, “I’m going to stop and we’re gonna go rescue them.” Everyone cheered in agreement. He said it as a joke, but he wasn’t really kidding. And neither were we. – JONATHAN VALANIA

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