The Flaming Lips made a spectacular return home to Oklahoma City on New Year’s Eve, ending 2010 and kicking off 2011 at their 4th Annual NYE Freakout. Along for the ride were Stardeath and White Dwarfs, about 30,000 balloons and just shy of 10,000 fans all rabid for the party that the Lips had promised.
Openers Stardeath and White Dwarfs, led by Coyne’s nephew Dennis, played to the venue as it began to fill up. Greeting those coming in late, Stardeath delivered a blast of sonic energy backed by intensely powerful basslines and synth riffs. New Heat was the highlight of their set, it’s bouncy bass causing the entire floor to shake; both from the bass vibrations and the crowd dancing on top of it.
After Stardeath’s nearly hour long set ended, the Lips (and their crew) took to the stage to begin their own soundcheck right in front of the entire crowd. Wayne waltzed down the runway, letting the crowd know that they weren’t being loud enough and that the plans for the evening included a regular set, a break for the New Year’s countdown and then a second set. The second set, Wayne reminded the crowd, was to be a complete run of their 1999 LP The Soft Bulletin.
Finally finishing their soundcheck/setup, the Lips took to the stage about 10:30. Appearing out of a giant glowing vagina (or a pair of flaming lips, haha) on the screen, the band popped out one at a time before walking to their respective instruments. As the pixelated vagina slowly dissipated, Wayne Coyne appeared once more. This time inside of a giant clear balloon, he rolled out over the crowd, giving those on the floor hope that they would get to touch their beloved Lips leader. It’s become a staple of the Lips’ live show and the fans will seemingly never tire of it.
Coyne eventually came out of his man-sized balloon, and so began the real show. For the next hour and fifteen minutes the band ran through some of their biggest hits, with fan favorites She Don’t Use Jelly and the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song both igniting the entire crowd. Joints blazing and beer spilling, they had no problem slurring out the lyrics with Wayne.
At some point in the show, Coyne and a man dressed in a bear outfit walked out to the main walkway with a couple in tow. Why? They were going to get married right in front of the captive audience. Dressed up in matching Christmas Tree-light decorated outfits, the couple recited their vows and got a ton of applause from the crowd. Coyne remarked that lots of couples have proposed at Lips shows, but this was the first actual marriage. Only one of the many crazy things to happen as 2010 came to a close.
During I Can Be A Frog Coyne begged the audience for their participation and they happily obliged, making animal noises on cue. The audience participation continued into the highlight of the first set, a great, relaxed version of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1. The song’s feel good vibe and hypnotizing synth lines and guitar work had the entire crowd behaving like one giant happy, intoxicated tribe.
By the time the first set was coming to a close, Wayne announced they had enough time for one more song before the countdown and proceeded singing the first few vocal lines of Do You Realize??. The song was actually selected as Oklahoma’s “official state rock song” a few years back with the state’s governor singing an executive order making it official. The Oklahoma crowd had no problem completely losing their shit over the song, regardless of the fact that Do You Realize?? is actually quite introspective as a song. For those not drunk out of their minds, it was a thoughtful way to end the set; Inspiring those who listened to the lyrics, it was officially the last song the Lips would play in 2010.
This left the band with about 5 minutes to prepare before the countdown started, but someone decided to start dropping balloons early. As Coyne laughingly announced to the crowd, “the balloons just couldn’t wait to join the party.” The crowd didn’t mind one bit that the balloons were early, and proceeded with the largest game of balloon volleyball I’ve ever seen.
Approximately four minutes before midnight, Coyne started the official countdown and after a short 60 seconds, the Lips brought in the new year. Surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of balloons, the crowd turned into a giant love fest, with couples kissing, friends hugging and a general feeling of happiness spread throughout the entire arena like wildfire.
The Lips motioned for the balloons to come to the stage and they began popping them one by one so they could continue with the show. After cleaning up the balloon massacre and getting the rest of their equipment ready, the band took the stage again at about 12:45; This time to play all of The Soft Bulletin in order for the first time ever.
While many in the crowd had left after the countdown, those who remained were treated to one of the best albums of the late 90s, including several almost VH1 Storyteller moments where Wayne broke down what the songs were about. For the most part however, the band was quiet and let the songs do the speaking.
Track by track, the Flaming Lips gave their most critically acclaimed work new life. The arrangements were roughly the same, but the actual performances were quite honestly breathtaking. Race for the Prize has been a live staple for the band for years, but when put into the context of the album it serves as a perfect way to gear up those in attendance for what was about to happen. The song oozed emotion, raw feeling and it was immediately apparent that the Lips were excited to play the entire album.
Buggin’ was played live for only the second time in the Lips’ history, and the crowd loved every minute of it. Wayne once again asked the crowd to contribute insect noises, and they very loudly (and happily) fulfilled his request. The group’s harmony work really came to life and offered further explanation as to why some critics hailed the album the Pet Sounds of the 90s. The band sounded perfect, and while Coyne was a little dodgy with the lyrics of the track, the song still came across incredibly well.
What Is The Light? was accompanied by a captivating laser show and the song’s simply melody and epic, pulsating bass and drum combination made sure the crowd was still paying attention this late into the show. The lighting helped to punctuate the piano chords and Coyne’s vibrato vocal work, and altogether it was one of the big highlights of the night.
Things slowly started to wind down, and the show ended with the fantastic one-two punch of Feeling Yourself Disintegrate and Sleeping On The Roof. was hauntingly beautiful, with swirling guitar work and relying heavily on the band’s great harmony work. It quietly evolved into Sleeping On The Roof, which started off slow and peaceful before turning into increasingly loud distorted sounds. It was a strange, yet effective way to end the long night of music.
I truly haven’t ever been a huge fan of the Flaming Lips, but this was my first time seeing them live. Now my opinion is completely different — this is a band that one simply needs to see live. While the show was long, perhaps too long for just casual fans; hardcore Flaming Lips fans got one of the greatest shows of the year. “The year” being both 2010 and 2011.
The New Year’s Eve Freakout was more than a concert, it was a true experience. A giant dance floor complete with balloons, confetti guns, costumed dancers and giant human-sized hamster balls. It became clear just a few songs into the evening that the Lips know how to throw a party, and they carried that momentum all the way into the next year. I can without a doubt tell you where I will be next New Year’s Eve.
Silver Trembling Hands
She Don’t Use Jelly
Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
In The Morning of the Magicians
I Can Be a Frog
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt.1
See the Leaves
The Ego’s Last Stand
Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung
Do You Realize??
Balloon Drop/NYE Countdown
Race for the Price
A Spoonful Weighs a Ton
The Spark That Bled
The Spiderbite Song
What Is The Light?
Waitin’ for a Superman
Suddenly Everything Has Changed
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
Sleeping on the Roof