Flaming Lips Give Me the Flips – August 15, 2009 – Del Mar Racetrack

Written By: Darwin Green
Photo courtesy of Titus Winters

The admission for the show cost $6.

The crowd who came for the Flaming Lips trickled in through the crowd there for the horse races. One could see the difference in crowds instantly, and the avenue of sausage, beer, and hot dog stands on the infield started filling up with green-haired, orange-clad, twenty-somethings and teenagers. We found the stage and sat down in the shade just in front of the sound booth. A couple hours later we moved up closer. Some guy near us who probably ingested some psychedelic before the show began pulling at what seemed like imaginary carrots out of the ground with a terrified fervor. People made space for him until he started grabbing an Asian girl, who went to look for Security. Another girl began twisting and pushing past people, running as fast as a crowd of people would allow her as several guards in red shirts followed her. My friends and I moved back to the area near the sound booth for the peace of mind and the best mix quality.

After another hour or two of waiting, the sun finally started to set, and the opening band walked on. “Star death and the White Dwarves” came on like a 70s disco-era prog band, playing some tunes reminiscent of “Under the Influence of Giants” and presented themselves with the same insouciance as the New York Dolls. They closed their set just after sunset with a slowly building, epic version of Madonna’s “Borderline,” phrasing each verse so slowly as to dissect each word in the lyrics for their exact meaning (see the video with them performing it with the Flaming Lips on the Flaming Lips blog site). In this way they stretched out the verses and built up the song for at least six minutes, finally blasting the chorus, grinding it into a climax worthy of a Led Zeppelin song, and sent it crashing for at least four minutes until the end of the set.

The Lips followed, one by one, entering the stage via a curtain in the main video display behind the band. Wayne Coyne squatted down inside a slowly inflating plastic ball. The video behind them showed the animation of a woman with her legs spread toward the viewer and her vagina sending out waves of light, the strobe lights around the screen echoing this and accentuating the pulsating music. As the vagina got closer, the ball grew, and until all the way inflated the band started to rock and Wayne stood up, arms raised, light spreading from behind him. He walked out on the audience on his hands and knees, attempted to stand, fell down, and crawled around the audience until finally returning to the stage, roadies carrying the deflated plastic ball like some discarded placenta.

Afterwards, during the opening song “Race for the Prize,” large inflated balloons of various colors started bouncing from the stage onto the audience. Everyone in front started knocking the balloons up into the air. So many balloons appeared in various shapes and colors that looking at the stage one felt as though at the bottom of a champagne glass with large, effervescent, multicolored bubbles rising to the surface. Wayne Coyne, dancing as though possessed and flinging balloons into the crowd, shot streams of confetti into the mass of screaming faces and waving hands.

The show continued with this magic through the next two hours. Song after song brought brilliance and surprises. They played old classics such as “She Don’t Use Jelly,” and “Do You Realize??” after playing altered versions of such songs like “Fight Test,” and “The W.A.N.D.,” sometimes stripping them to nothing but guitar and vocals, bringing out the inherent sweetness and romanticism in each one. Sometimes the opposite would occur with them putting wailing guitar solos in places never before heard on the album. New material crept in to our surprise. “Convinced of the Hex” off their future album Embryonic, delivered a dark, fun, Syd Barrett-esque vibe, and, played relatively close with “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung,” showed what an enormous influence Barrett had on the band.

There are reports of the above events at other Flaming Lips concerts. Some say their shows follow the same pattern, and have done so for many years. However, if the band puts that much energy into each of their live sets, and if they’re that good every time, then I can’t dissuade anyone from attending purely on the basis of previous shows. The audience itself, and the variety of music heads there are enough for me to acknowledge that this band brings something special to each performance.

Coyne gave several short speeches, but the one that stood out consisted of how grateful he was that “the freaks” had found a place to get together and have fun without being judged. He gave an amusing anecdote about how he came to Del Mar smelling horseshit from the racetrack. He explained, to his surprise, how the smell of pot from the audience covered over the smell of horseshit, but then he smelled horseshit again. He stated, “At one point all the pot out there must have been smoked up.” He told everyone in the audience to keep smoking pot so he didn’t have to smell the horseshit anymore, that the Flaming Lips, even though the announcer for Del Mar forbid it, condoned people smoking pot at Del Mar.

It spoke more for Wayne than anyone else. He left the stage saying how grateful he was for his audience, and made sure everybody felt loved before starting into “Do You Realize??” as the last song. I’m writing this with a straight face: it felt as though The Flaming Lips channeled some healing love energy into the crowd, blessing its listeners in a palpable way and making this reviewer believe that humility, messages of peace and harmony, and simple good will, when applied to a mass audience, has the ability to enact change for the better for all those involved.

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