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Space Girl and Bunny Man bark, growl and chirp at the maestro as he conducts an audience-turned-orchestra loyal to his every command. “Can you be a wolf,” the maestro sings, raising a hand to the rafters, prompting Space Girl and Bunny Man to howl back with the roaring audience's lonesome cry. The pair nods their helmet and ears, respectively, seemingly in approval, as the maestro pushes open his grey suit jacket and sings or suggests, “seems like you can be anything.”
At the Flaming Lips intimate gig at the Montalban theater in Hollywood, part of MySpace's secret show series, anything seemed possible as frontman Wayne Coyne smashed cymbals, led a raucous revival sing-along, and pontificated on his 26 years fronting the far-out Oklahoma band.
Although the Easter Bunny in a jumpsuit (a.k.a Mark Romer) and Jetson's-styled space waitress (Vanessa Bonet, from fashion label Psycho Girlfriend) were the few suited up for the Lip's spaced-out set, the streamlined show seared without the circus-like antics the Lips typically employ.
Instead of blasting the crowd with a confetti cannon, the stage was blasted with fog and lights, as the band blasted out hard-edged cuts from their new album, Embryonic. The five song set showcased the album's rough rockers, propelled by the deep drone of Stephen Drozd's guitar work and Kliph Scurlock's drum assault.
Opening with the loud sonic wash of “Convinced of the Hex,” the rolling snare and interlocked guitar marched with precision of a lock-stepped android army, while Coyne sang “That's the difference between us,” like a drill sergeant. Without the usual flames or furry animals onstage–and sans Coyne's messianic walk across the audience in a plastic bubble–the pared-down group highlighted their tight musicianship, showing off the essence behind the band: the music. It was like Kiss with no make-up: no distractions, just pure rock. “Silver Trembling Hands” wavered from four-on-the-floor tightness to ethereal psychedelia reminiscent of Pink Floyd's “Astronomy Domine,” and the spooky “See the Leaves,” mounted a ceaseless attack of fuzz bass accompanied by Coyne's tightly wound vocals.
Then Coyne introduced a new idea: the sing along. Originally, on the album version of “I Can Be A Frog,” Coyne posed an animal sound over the phone to Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O who would reciprocate her interpretations of a gila monster or a warrior Indian. Coyne asked the audience to fill in for Karen, urging Space Girl, Bunny Man, and the crowd to mimic jaguars, locusts, and helicopters to the best of their abilities. Coyne laughed and smiled as he heard the audience create sounds he couldn't anticipate. The finch sounded like monkey, and the monkey more like a crying baby. But the anarchy is what maestro Coyne tends to seek, as he did during the Boombox Experiments of the late 1990's.
Flaming Lips shows are seldom normal, but this wasn't a normal Flaming Lips show. It was a show for a theater full of rabid fans, complete with a store stocked with every piece of Flaming Lips paraphernalia imaginable, from shirts and posters, to vinyl and a fur-covered copy of Embryonic.
After the show, Coyne et al. signed autographs for a long line of fans. But before the show, Coyne and Scurlock came onstage to field questions from the audience via Twitter. Audience members sent in about 70 questions from which Coyne would answer in an honest and slightly professorial manner. Craziest gift he's received? A fiber-optic Jesus from Jack White. Do any of the songs give him nightmares? “I think that dreams and nightmares are all in your head,” Coyne announced. What's your favorite things? “Sleeping in as late as I can and sex with my wife,” he revealed.
Coyne's spirit of openness emerged in the video for “Watching the Planets” where he and a group of naked frolickers battle a giant furball. And yes, across from the curtained room upstairs where the video was screened, the furball rested comfortably.
Then Coyne revealed their newest project, a cover album of Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon,” featuring Henry Rollins, Peaches (singing on “Great Gig in the Sky”), and Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, the band of Coyne's nephew.
The performance ended with the anthemic crash of “Watching the Planets” featuring guest musician Ray Suen as gong-smasher. Suen made a cameo earlier the week on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, and exuded the same head-banging energy for this roof-raising stomp.
For Space Girl and the Bunny Man, the Furball and the Twitterers, the Flaming Lips provided gong-smashing, light blasting moment of irreproducible oddity. That is, until the next time their circus comes town.