Review: The Flaming Lips at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Tame Impala Opened Friday Night’s Psychedelic Love Fest
If you didn’t attend Friday night’s season-ending blowout at the Bowl, you’ve probably heard that it was a night for the S.B. history books. Blessed with the perfect storm of party fodder — two great acts, one big, bold, and culturally significant holiday — the Bowl staff (and a small army of volunteers) transformed the night into a dazzling display of Day of the Dead celebrations, complete with altars, face painting, Aztec dancing, and a flash mob of zombies that threatened to steal the show away from the night’s opening act.
Speaking of, a major hat tip must go to Tame Impala, the Aussie psych rockers that played a glorious second fiddle to the night’s headliners. Armed with a zillion-watt LED display, the band served up an infectious and sonically spot-on hour-long set list that included the twitchy, drum-line-inspired “Be Above It,” the blissed-out groover “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” (complete with bonus jam sesh), and the big bluesy stomper “Elephant,” which gave way to a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and its flash mob, and then kicked back in and nearly knocked us over with its might. By the end of it all, Flaming Lips ringleader Wayne Coyne was onstage, dressed like a green space frog, covering his own “Are You a Hypnotist??” with Impala as his backing band. And we were left to speculate if the Lips could live up to their opening act.
Luckily Coyne is not a man to be outdone, especially onstage. Within the first five minutes of Friday’s “blood bath,” Coyne had scaled a massive pulpit that was lit up like a Christmas tree, presented himself in a floor-length white gown and flowing blond wig, and been doused in a few gallons of (fake?) blood by a Miley Cyrus look-alike riding a man in a giant bear costume. Then came the balloons — hundreds of them — released in unison as confetti cannons shot pink party paper into the crowd. The scene it created was nothing short of spectacular, and the effect it had on the crowd was something approaching ecstatic glee.
Musically speaking, the Lips cast their net wide and delivered a set list that was great for the die-hards, but tough to swallow for those who’ve only paid casual attention to the band’s 16-plus-album output. While I can applaud the band’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude when it comes to catering to the masses, one also couldn’t help but notice a disconnect between Coyne and his audience about halfway through the set. The frontman is famously interactive with his fans, but from atop his glow-in-the-dark perch, he was forced to rely on less crowd surfing and more hand gesturing to get people pumped up. And when they didn’t respond as loudly or emphatically as he wanted, the whole thing started to feel a little forced.
That said, Flaming Lips superfans were heavily rewarded on Friday night, as the band dished up deep cuts like “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” and a heavy helping of newer, spaced-out tracks from this year’s The Terror. And for those that stuck with it, the night’s big finale brought Tame Impala back onstage for a glorious rendition of “Do You Realize??” It was a moment so big, silly, confetti-filled, and tear-jerking, you couldn’t help but forgive the Lips’ missteps and embrace the fact that this year went out with such a freakishly weird, unarguably great bang.
Flaming Lips Setlist
1. “Halloween Theme”
2. “The WAND (The Will Always Negates Defeat)”
3. “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast”
4. “Silver Trembling Hands”
5. “Look … The Sun Is Rising”
6. “The Terror”
7. “Race for the Prize
8. “Try to Explain”
9. “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die
10. “Turning Violent”
11. “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton”
12. “Do You Realize??”