At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday, May 15.
Oklahoma psychedelic space-rockers The Flaming Lips played an explosive set to an almost-packed audience at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday night. This was the last show on the 28-date There Should Be Unicorns tour, and it’s no wonder the act made Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Bands to See Before You Die. Monday night’s performance was truly a spectacle.
Opening with “Race for the Prize”, you would have thought it was the encore of the evening, with confetti cannons shooting off on both sides of the floor, bursts of strobe lighting effects, and dozens of massive balloons being passed around the audience. Next was fan favorite “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt. 1”, a track that had everyone singing along, including three giant and cartoonish inflatable-costumed people bopping around onstage.
You would think that super tripped-out LED visuals, complemented by strings of hanging lights that joined to create a fragmented three-dimensional screen, would be enough by way of decoration. Not for the Flaming Lips. Add an inflatable rainbow, 20-foot high red cap mushrooms , lasers, balloons, a life-sized unicorn, people in blow-up animal costumes, and a shit-ton of confetti, and you’re getting close to the chaos created by the musicians onstage.
Singer and eccentric-uncle-your-parents-don’t-invite-over-anymore Wayne Coyne gifted a huge display of birthday-style silver-foil letter balloons to the audience, linked together to spell “FUCK YEAH VANCOUVER”. Fans proceeded to rip it to pieces, leading Coyne to lament that “America’s streets are filled with violence. Every time we pass those balloons to the crowd they get torn to shreds!”
By the third song, “There Should Be Unicorns”from the band’s latest release Oczy Mlody, the lasers were in full force, shooting out towards the audience in trippy greens, pinks, and blues, synchronized with the show’s projections. Coyne was carted around the stage by other band members while he donned inflatable rainbow wings, riding on a unicorn decorated in LED lights that pulsed to the beat.
Later, a gong with seizure-inducing swirl lights was brought out as Coyne proclaimed that the band was going to play a history lesson for the crowd. Each time he hit it, lasers and strobes would trigger and the lights went into overdrive, creating patterns vibrant enough to give you flashbacks without ever dropping a tab of acid.
Kickass visuals aside, the music was in fine form despite all the chaos around it. The acoustics in the Queen E are always great, but for some reason Coyne’s vocal was much quieter than the rest of the band’s for most of the set. The instrumentation, however, sounded clean and crisp, mixed perfectly with the drums and the work of multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, who was surrounded with keyboards and percussion used when he wasn’t making spaced-out guitar sounds during the set.
Coyne proclaimed halfway through the performance that the reason why he asks the audience to get loud is that there is someone, even the person right next to you, who is dealing with profound sadness right now. “I know this because I spoke to some of these people before the show,” he said. “You never know what someone is going through. I strongly believe that screaming, chaos, and joy are much more contagious”. With such a wide range of people the vibe felt very positive, making it exactly the type of uplifting show you want to see if you’re dealing with your own issues, or just totally fucking mad that it’s Monday and there’s a brutal torrential downpour outside in the middle of May.
The rest of the set was filled with fan favorites such as “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, “The W.A.N.D”., “Are You Some Kind Of Hypnotist” a few tracks from the group’s acclaimed LP The Soft Bulletin, and a brilliant cover of “Space Oddity” by the late David Bowie. Wayne Coyne told the audience the story of how they had done many covers of the Starman in the past, but only tried that particular song for a tribute. Suggesting that it was a perfect track for the Flaming Lips to cover, the band now play it as a regular addition to the setlist each night since Bowie joined the stars in the sky.
Coyne did emerge in his infamous human hamster ball but it seemed short-lived, with the singer only surfing the audience for a few seconds and staying inside the bubble onstage to perform the bulk of the song. Next a rainbow was laid out, slowly inflating to arch above the entire stage, with Coyne performing under it—a cue for the grizzled frontman to give a nod to his technical team. “We always take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the quickness and perfectness of the Flaming Lips inflatable rainbow crew”, he says. After many years of stage theatrics, it’s understandable that anyone involved with the Lips’ setup would be pretty well-versed on inflatable concert deco—but with everything going on at the same time, it’s amazing that nothing went wrong.
The band returned for two encores, first with “Silver Trembling Hands” and “She Don’t Use Jelly”; the latter bringing everyone together to sing the ridiculous chorus line “She uses Va-aa-aaa-seline / Taaa-aa-angerines / Maa-aa-agazines”. For the second encore they played the last track from The Soft Bulletin, “Waitin’ for a Superman”, as well as the infamous “Do You Realize?”,a glorious and profound way to end the evening. With Coyne spouting the lyrics, “Realize that life goes fast, it’s hard to make the good things last”, the audience acknowledged that the show was over—but at least some good things last about two hours on a rainy Monday night.