For a quarter-century now (and arguably longer), The Flaming Lips have represented the most complete fulfillment of the live rock ‘n’ roll spectacle—lavish props, hand puppets, fake blood, confetti guns, onstage dancers, laser light shows, a singer suspended in a bubble that bounds offstage and shoots him over the crowd, and songs whose twin senses of musical bombast and emotional vulnerability ferry some of modern music’s most magnetic hooks. The Flaming Lips are KISS for our 4K video world, Pink Floyd for a generation where even once-humble indie rock acts from Oklahoma can figure out how to turn rock clubs and festival stages into extravagant experiences that provide the illusion they will never happen again. Onstage, there is no band more invested in making sure you have a good time, in creating a scenario whereby, at least for ninety minutes or so, you can feel elated by the possibilities of this world. In their ability to transmogrify dark into every color of the rainbow, The Flaming Lips are a live music miracle.
The Flaming Lips emerged from Norman, Oklahoma in the early ’80s, when the rise of punk and indie rock began to turn small cities across the country into unexpected sources of incredibly idiosyncratic new music. Almost from the start, they were both outlandish and awesome, tying punk’s energy to psychedelic rock’s sense of warped élan. They refined that mix during their first decade, establishing a fortuitous relationship with longtime producer Dave Fridmann and fostering a reputation as a live act so insane, they nearly burned down a club with fireworks. Through the ’90s, they proved they could make hits (the stunning oddity “She Don’t Use Jelly” chief among them) and get conceptual, as proven by the rock opus Zaireeka, a set of four discs meant to be played simultaneously.
But it was a series of turn-of-the-millennium records—1999’s tender The Soft Bulletin, 2002’s engrossing masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and 2006’s nervy At War With the Mystics—that established them as one of their generation’s most imaginative bands. Those records also charted, earned them Grammys, and propelled them toward the mainstream, where they have remained for nearly twenty years as rock ‘n’ roll’s glorious weirdos. That recognition allowed them to follow their fancy wherever it went, from full-length covers of The Dark Side of the Moon to an extravagant and ribald collaboration with Miley Cyrus. Last year’s Oczy Mlody, a loose-fitting concept album about drugs and having sex atop unicorns, is its most compelling full-length in years, with songs that incorporate the sounds of symphonies and trap and trip-hop inside beautifully arching anthems.
This is a prime time, then, to see The Flaming Lips, who make their first appearance in downtown Raleigh since their transcendent headlining set at Hopscotch 2011. Don’t you want to be there when The Flaming Lips make a moment that people spend another seven years talking about?
Listen to The Flaming Lips on Spotify or Apple Music and see them in Raleigh City Plaza with Real Estate and HC McEntire on Thursday, September 7.
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