This article was originally published for Monday Magazine and can be found here.
The Flaming Lips have long inhabited the outskirts of our modern musical landscape. Surrounded by a host of cosmic curiosities such as massive laser-launching palms, man-sized hamster balls and several thousand pounds of confetti, The Flaming Lips’ dreamscape casts a spell upon all who enter.
We forget that, for most of their 30-year career, The Flaming Lips have preferred the expansive and challenging terrain of the avant-garde to more conventional sing along territory of “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and “Do You Realize?” We forget that The Lips’ legendary live show, though indisputably spectacular, invariably leaves the uninitiated scratching their confetti covered skull, bewildered by dissonant and, at times, abrasive elements so pervasive in the band’s massive catalogue.
But on Friday night, those who gathered at Royal Athletic Park were forced, for a moment most fleeting, to remember why The Flaming Lips are so important: the band was brave enough not to give most of the crowd what they may have expected, much less what they wanted. The band decided to diverge from the well tread path of the palatable in favor of the dangerous trail of their own uncompromised artistic pursuits. The response, as one may guess, was mixed.
From the very outset of their frantic and impassioned set, it was clear that this year’s Rifflandia headliners doubled as the band least fit for mass consumption. Instead of watering its set list down with recognizable, or even danceable songs, The Flaming Lips chose to challenge its audience with some of the more terrifying and experimental material in its repertoire, most notably selections from 2009’s masterful Embryonic.
While devoted fans of the band were undoubtedly thrilled to hear songs like “The Ego’s Last Stand” and “Watching The Planets” , most of the crowd resigned themselves simply to endure a veritable assault of sound while taking pictures of an orgy of visual delights and holding out for more familiar songs from the band’s mainstream breakthrough Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
The crowd’s longing for familiarity went unrealized for the vast majority of the show. Most of the band’s ‘hits’ were relegated to the encore, begging us to question the aim of live performance. Is it a performer’s duty to simply placate an audience with the predictable? If so, The Flaming Lips’ set was a spectacular flop as, for much of the show, the audience felt more bewildered than inspired.
But those awkward moments are the very moments which are destined to be forgotten, to give way to the multitude of pictures of spectacle that have flooded many-a Facebook wall and will, in time, define one’s memory of the show. Once again, The Flaming Lips managed to cast an amnesiac web upon the unsuspecting. Clad in the skin of spectacle, the Lips bullied its way into the reluctant consciousness of Rifflandians, proving itself as one of the most daring and subversive bands of our time.