Tuesday, January 3rd 2012
Shows: The Flaming Lips
For the fifth year in a row downtown Oklahoma City turned into a giant party as the Flaming Lips and their fans joined together for the New Year’s Eve Freakout.
This year the show moved into the much smaller Bricktown Events Center, but still managed to bring along the entire Flaming Lips experience with one added feature — Yoko Ono and her Plastic Ono Band joined the group to help usher in the new year. Another change found the bands playing over two nights, both a NYE countdown on 12/31 and a year-opening show on January 1st.
After covering the show last year, I had spent the last 12 months looking forward to this show. As the announcements came – the show changing locations, Yoko Ono joining as support and a significant raise in ticket prices ($100), things took an interesting, somewhat worrying turn but overall the show ended up being a once in a lifetime (err… twice in a lifetime) event that I’m glad to have been at.
The New Year’s show that I was at also brought in the groove-based synthpop Phantogram as an opening act. Vocalist Sarah Barthel has a very fragile, almost frail voice, but it matches well with the group’s overall sound. Their set was heavy on 2009’s sadly overlooked Eyelid Moves LP, songs like Mouthful of Diamonds revolved around a simple beat, heavy synth and shimmering, arpeggiated guitar lines while Barthel’s airy voice floated effortlessly over the music. When I’m Small’s trippy beat and guitar riff seemed to get the crowd moving along, getting into the party mood for the next part of the show.
Unfortunately after Phantogram nearly an hour passed, killing the party vibe as the crew got Yoko Ono’s equipment set up. Eventually the lights dimmed and a documentary about Yoko ran on the Lips’ half-circle stage, giving those in the audience a little bit of background on who she was. There were some audible boos from those in the crowd that still feel she ruined the Beatles (even though those booing were more than likely too young to even be alive during the group’s run), but most watched on with piqued curiosity, unsure of what to expect from the now 78-year-old Ono.
As the documentary played, Wayne Coyne and his wife sat at the left of the stage watching along with the crowd. It became clear from the childlike grin on Wayne’s face that tonight was special for him. For Coyne, a lover of weird, a promoter of oddity, having Yoko Ono there with him seemed to complete some fantasy of his. And finally, after the documentary – there she was.
Decked out in a white blazer and a top hat, Yoko and her band, complete with Sean Lennon on bass/whatever else he wanted to play, Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda on synth and keyboards and Wilco’s Nels Cline on guitar – played for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes.
Yoko’s voice is… well, Yoko’s voice. I don’t think anyone in the world loves her vocal style, but for the most part it sat well with the music that was being performed. In all honesty the music itself was very enjoyable, some of it featuring heavy, almost funk bass work and nearly all of it backed by a thumping, danceable beat. By the end of their set however, the novelty of having Yoko Ono perform on stage seemed to have worn off for most in the crowd. The cheering grew quieter as the show progressed, but Ono took it in stride.
Somewhat surprisingly for a 78-year-old woman, Ono had no problem controlling the stage. Sashaying back and forth across the stage, Ono was charming, smiling and flashing peace signs every four seconds and telling the crowd how excited she was to be there.
The Plastic Ono Band’s set was compiled of older tracks but also a healthy dose of songs from 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky. It was obvious that everyone in the crowd was there for the Lips, and while musically the Plastic Ono Band’s set was good, Yoko’s voice just goes too far into left field to be appealing to most music listeners. Her set was interesting, but for most in the crowd it will be forgotten, a simple memory of “Hey, I saw Yoko Ono one time.”
Eventually it ended and Wayne came out to let the crowd know how the rest of the evening was going to go. The plan was for the Lips to play until almost midnight and then Yoko Ono and her band were going to come back out for the NYE countdown.
The Lips opened their set how they usually do, with Coyne crawling out into the crowd in his giant plastic ball as the band played their cover of Black Sabbath’s Sweet Leaf. Even though I’ve seen the Lips several times this year, seeing Wayne’s face while inside the ball out on the crowd never gets old. It’s clear that Wayne loves what he does, and judging from the crowd’s reaction, I don’t think the plastic ball entrance is going anywhere any time soon.
Both She Don’t Use Jelly and The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song wound up the crowd, the former becoming an extended sing along while the latter found Coyne teaching the crowd hand movements to match the track’s lyrics. After Yeah Yeah Yeah, Coyne invited Yoko Ono and her band back out on the stage.
Scott Booker, the Flaming Lips manager, also joined the bands on stage with a special announcement – Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett had named December 31st as “Yoko-lahoma City Day,” celebrating Yoko’s contributions to the world of philanthropy and art. Yoko seemed very happy to receive the honor, and immediately after the two bands led the crowd on versions of both Give Peace A Chance and Happy Xmas (War Is Over).
Unfortunately the crowd failed at singing Give Peace A Chance. Coyne offered the microphone to five or six different people, each one simply not knowing the lyrics or too fucked up to sing along. It was pretty embarrassing but Wayne covered well, heading back to the stage and letting Sean Lennon take over most of the lead vocals.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) went a lot better, getting the crowd of roughly 2,000 to join in on the Lennon classic. It led directly into the final countdown for midnight as dozens and dozens of huge balloons showered down on top of the crowd. It became tough to see the stage and figure out what was going on, but from the photo pit I could see everyone on stage running around hugging, drinking champagne and celebrating with each other while those in the crowd toasted each other with their cheap beer and rang in new year.
After the countdown Yoko Ono and her band departed and the Flaming Lips resumed playing a fairly normal set. See the Leaves, Laser Hands and the Soft Bulletin classic What is the Light? pulsated throughout the crowd, each track synched up with a laser show that helped complete the Lips’ unique concert atmosphere.
The band’s first encore consisted of a string of Beatles classics, starting with Strawberry Fields Forever and a trippy, psychedelic jam version of A Day in the Life. During A Day in the Life someone in the crowd tossed out a giant ball of yard. As it slowly unraveled, individuals in the crowd began to hold on to the string. By the end of the track it wrapped around the entire crowd from the front of the stage all the way back by the soundboard. The yarn represented a very physical, tangible way to view the feelings and emotions present at the show – everyone was tied together, sharing one fantastic experience as the band played on.
The Beatles’ set continued with I Am the Walrus, which sounded better live than on their recent video. Hearing a crowd full of happy, bouncing people yell goo goo g’joob goes down as one of my favorite concert memories, and a hell of a way to help kick off the new year.
The Lips then welcomed guitarist Nels Cline back to the stage for an intense version of one of my favorite songs from the Beatles’ repertoire, I Want You (She’s So Heavy). The song, one of the Beatles’ longest, was even longer here, extended over almost 20 minutes of sizzling chords and swirling guitar riffs. The song fits well in the context of a Flaming Lips show and it’d be great to see them add it to their normal show setlist.
After another brief encore break, the Lips took the stage again for standard show closer Do You Realize?? The song is one of the best show closers that a band could hope for, one of those tracks that really wraps up everything that defines what a band is about. Like the yarn connecting everyone in the crowd earlier in the show, Do You Realize?? lyrically reminds everyone that we are all together here on this planet, having a good time and making the best out of our respective situations. Having thousands of people singing along as what seems like an infinite supply of confetti flies all over the venue only helps to cement the sad, but ultimately uplifting song’s message.
Because of powerful moments – the yarn, confetti, Do You Realize??, Wayne’s giant ball, the balloon drop – the Flaming Lips have one of the best shows on the planet. While any Lips show has the potential to be great, these unique hometown shows in Oklahoma City seem extra special and I feel lucky to have been a part.
As long as 2012 doesn’t mark the end of the world, as long as zombies don’t come and a giant meteor doesn’t kill us, you need to be at next year’s show. I’ll see you there.
Flaming Lips setlist:
Sweet Leaf (Black Sabbath), Worm Mountain, She Don’t Use Jelly, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, Give Peace A Chance/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (with Plastic Ono Band), The Process, See the Leaves, Laser Hands, Drug Chart, Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung, What is the Light?, The Observer, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life, I Am The Walrus, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) , Do You Realize??