Flaming Lips whips audience into a fantasy

Published April 16, 2007

One pities the cleanup crew at a Flaming Lips concert.

At 11:30 p.m. Saturday, just after the Lips wrapped up yet another hallucinatory spectacle of love, hope and out-of-this-galaxy freak-rock, the Jannus Landing courtyard was coated in a thin layer of orange confetti and balloons, with long white streamers blowing from the trees.

Many fans lingered, drinking and hugging and singing to themselves. And who can blame them? It had been 13 years since Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips had played Tampa Bay; tickets were selling for $100 the day before on Craigslist.

It was worth every penny. The Lips, a band with the chops to headline major rock festivals, galvanized the sold-out audience from the get-go. After the band entered to a trumpet fanfare, the stage exploded into a multisensory carnival, including fog, green lasers, about a dozen dancing, flashlight-wielding Santas and space-alien babes, and giant yellow balloons bouncing all across the crowd.

It was a sublime mixture of chaos and catharsis that reached an early apex when the band exploded into its first proper song, the rapturous Race for the Prize. As confetti rained over the audience, singer Wayne Coyne swirled a light bulb over his head and fired air cannons full of streamers from the stage. It was almost too much to take in.

Throughout the concert, Coyne, one of rock's smartest and most whimsical front men, spread a gospel of otherworldly love with an evangelist's zeal, kicking, leaping and crooning his heart out, and drawing thunderous applause with deep, dictatorial bows.

"Wherever you came from, for tonight, we're gonna ask you to sing along," said Coyne, wearing a nun hand puppet during the eccentric but buoyant Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1. "Don't be embarrassed. Don't try to be too cool. Just let it flow, okay?"

The fans, of course, obliged.

At other points during the show, Coyne clasped and hurled a giant yellow balloon with 3-foot foam hands; shot an air cannon full of streamers into a gong; hugged his skeleton-costume-wearing bandmate, Michael Ivins; and flew a toy dove around the stage.

He also wasn't afraid to let his political colors show. After the lively, foot-stomping The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song - which Coyne said worked well as an "anti-George Bush song" - he pressed an electronic bugle to his forehead for a somber rendition of Taps, in tribute to soldiers lost in the war in Iraq.

If it wasn't for the war, he said, "how many other young people would be here - probably four or five other young people?" It was a moving moment that hit home with the crowd.

Before a deafening call for an encore - "It's one of the loudest audiences we've ever had," Coyne later said - the Lips played two of their most recognizable songs, the majestic Do You Realize? and 1993's She Don't Use Jelly, the closest thing the band has ever had to a mainstream hit.

At the end of Jelly, with a blizzard of confetti fluttering from the stage, Coyne used a device that looked like a sawed-off leaf blower to inflate a 10-foot balloon until it exploded.

Inside, there were only more balloons.