The Flaming Lips – Live at The Tabernacle 5/19/2011

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This was my third concert seeing The Flaming Lips, a band who have several CD’s that I like a lot… and others not as much.   Being a Lips' fan also means that when you tell someone you like them, you receive the pleasure of reading their face, from quizzical to startled to judgmental.  But, hey, “The Beatles” doesn’t make much sense for a music group’s name either.

Based on past experience, I had been looking forward to this show in two ways:  1) They were replaying in its entirety my favorite of their album's, 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, and 2) for a photo opportunity.  The Lips include a wide mixture of lighting colors and directional lights, not to mention videos.  My Canon G-11 is severely challenged for any concert due to lighting challenges, but particularly indoor shows.  Regrettably, most venues don’t allow professional cameras, and the G-11 is as robust a pocket camera as I’ve found. 

We arrived over an hour prior to the show time, expecting an early crowd and desirous of close floor proximity to the stage.   Standing in line on a beautiful Spring day in Atlanta was no big deal, even if the doors opened a half hour late.  After entering, I looked with some consideration at the empty balcony seats from which I enjoyed Fleet Foxes the week prior, but the floor experience at a Lips show can be special.

However, that show would have to wait.   The late entry and setup activity around the stage suggested that the band’s equipment may have arrived late.  For a concert, one shouldn’t expect a prompt start, but, it being a work night for me and a school night for my son, plus there being two opening acts, a 30 minute delay before the first act was a bit tiring.


That act was Mariachi El Bronx, a band with several albums released under their other pseudonym, El Bronx.  A hardcore punk band from L.A.  Their name was true to their music as the 7 Amigos strolled onto the stage and presented a lively 30 minute or so set of, yes, Mariachi themed music.  IMG_4537aThose interested can watch a YouTube vid.  Regrettably, the aural mix wasn’t very settled – perhaps the supposed late arrival also abbreviated the sound check.

The next act, Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger, fairly quickly got their gear in place but still would not take the stage for quite a while.  As a Beatles fan, it was with quite a bit of curiosity that I approached this band, as their leader is Sean Lennon, younger son of John.  As it turns out, there is a distinct fatherly resemblance.  He and his girlfriend bassist/singer/model Charlotte Kemp Muhl presented an unusual assortment of music.  On the one hand, their vocals are fairly thin and lean towards artsy-pop, but the acoustics made most of what they sang indecipherable.  Also, this was only their fourth appearance with a full band, including keyboards, drums, and trumpet.  They only played a handful of songs, but musically their songs took stronger rock tones, particularly the last, a charged psychedelic/progressive instrumental that spoke of, to my ears, better things to come.  Lennon certainly proved himself a more than capable guitarist.


Finally, it was The Flaming Lips’ turn.  To set up their equipment, that is.  I haven’t seen a band that is more hands-on in setting their stage than this one, or, for that matter, one that uses more duct tape.  By this time, the Tabernacle was packed as were those of us standing in our 4 ft2 (or less) of contested floor space.

The Tabernacle dates to 1911, when it was used as a Baptist church.  It has assuredly been remodeled over the years, but that makes it no less unsettling when the Flaming Lips take the stage.  The wood joisted floor flexes with a jumping crowd, in a manner which invites speculation of stress loads and harmonic convergences.  Steady lads.  The party has started.


Music.  Balloons.  Confetti.  And one of the best Master of Ceremonies of rock cult-dom, Wayne Coyne.


Being no stranger to pre-performance appearances to wave to the audience, Coyne explained that the evening’s performance of The Soft Bulletin was more of an experiment.  They hadn’t performed the album since New Year’s Eve, plus they had added one new band member and one guest musician (a Mariachi man).  The clear inference was that, while they know their music, they hadn’t practiced this show as a set.

The sell-out crowd (another followed the next day) didn’t care.  The band played great, songs were as we wanted to hear them, and if smooth transitions between one song and the next were not to be had, that just left M.C. Coyne with more microphone time, never a bad thing.

What was lost in this particular translation were some of the comic aspects that Coyne typically uses in his shows.  Whether distracted or outgrown, the microphone-bound camera provided close-up shots that previously have been used very playfully, and his hilarious Nun hand puppet apparently was left in Vespers.  Coyne also isn’t as sparing with the confetti, used as bookends to this show.  No, it’s not a big deal, but Coyne had to work a little harder without a more prepared choreography, and he settled for raising the roof with crowd responses.  Who’s to complain?

Actually, my feet, from standing in place for most of the 6 hours.  I’ll concede the floor to the youth movement and head for a balcony next time.

After The Soft Bulletin (actually, they stopped short of the final two reprises on the album), the band took a short break before returning with a few songs, including a new one that leaned towards their current electronic direction (neither a hit nor a miss) and rousing renditions of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “Do You Realize?”


The show wrapped up ~12:30 a.m.  It was well worth the cash, and not just on an hourly basis.  For those considering attending a Flaming Lips show, do yourself a favor.  Avoid the festivals or outdoor shows, and find a venue where they can throw a party.  You won’t regret it.

For what I hope will be an entertaining photo journey of the evening, please click on the below.


1 comment :

  1. The "two reprises" at the end of The Soft Bulletin are remixes that Warner Bros. forced them to put on the CD.