Look into space, it surrounds you.

Last night, Paul and I met up with Burkhardt and company to see a free show by The Flaming Lips out near the Alliant Energy Center. It was part of this SoCo Music Experience what-have-you, which was mostly (as for as I was concerned) beside the point, since: Flaming Lips + free show = I am there, lame corporate sponsor or no. I saw them a few years back in Portland just after Yoshimi came out, and it was an amazing time, and I was finding confetti in my clothes for weeks afterward. So I decided to punt the Russian sci-fi at Cinematheque in favor of the concert. I think it was the right decision.
What to say? The Onion is right: the Lips should be on your list of Bands To See Before You Die (or They Disband) (or They Die). Their shows are involving, high-energy, joyful, tons of fun, and downright beautiful to watch. They get locals to dress up in crazy costumes and dance on stage all night, they have an inspired light show (this time featuring an incredible semicircular LED panel — which was just a screen of LEDs, so you could see through it when it was turned off), weird and wonderful props (gongs, big foam hands, &c.), onstage cameras, confetti cannons, and enormous balloons, which they throw out into the audience and which bounce around for the entire show. The result, when combined with the music, is a totalizing aesthetic experience of, well, I suppose it’s kind of rapturous. Rapt, at the very least.
The balloon thing brought up perhaps my biggest issue with the SoCo aspect of the concert. In addition to the balloons that are a normal (and therefore choreographed) part of the show, SoCo threw out some inflatables of its own, including a huge blow-up bottle of Southern Comfort, a couple of normal clear beach balls with inflatable SoCo bottles inside them, and a horde of inflatable footballs. The problem: all of the stuff that they threw out there was (a) completely out-of-place aesthetically, and (b) way too heavy to give the correct, slow, floaty effect which is the whole point of the balloons in the first place. It was a little jarring (at least to me), but I wasn’t too upset about it. After all: Flaming Lips + free show = happy Am.
Another neat prop is the crowd-surfing hamster ball thing, which is basically this huge inflated transparent sphere into which Wayne Coyne steps and then rolls around on top of the audience. It’s pretty darn cool.
The show I went to in Portland was inside (at the State theater up on Congress Street, these days a familiar site to me!), and I will say that being inside does have the advantage of keeping all the airborne elements of showmanship contained: the balloons don’t just float away, the confetti doesn’t drift with the wind. However, being outside was wonderful in its own right: it was, as Wayne commented, a perfect end-of-summer night, and the temperature and weather were ideal for an outdoor show. Paul had a great time, and I don’t think he had heard one note of their music before dinnertime, when I had Yoshimi on the stereo.
The other nice thing about the night was that we ducked out of the concert just before the finale and drove out to one of the UW’s observatories to meet up with some other historians of science to do some stargazing. We saw several binary stars, galaxies, and other celestial phenomena — the one drawback of showing up late was that we missed Jupiter. All in all, though, it was a wonderful night of being outside and looking at the heavens.
Photos from the concert are here.


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