As Wayne Coyne stood atop a bank of video screens at Crossroads KC on Tuesday, he struggled to squeeze a large batch of balloons through a narrow gap in an elaborate curtain of lights.
The frenzied ringleader of the Flaming Lips eventually managed to toss the balloons into the audience of more than 1,000 without falling to the stage where six band mates watched the clumsy stunt. Only when the awkward maneuver was completed did the band launch into a magisterial version of “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” a thoughtful song about the advent of the atomic age.
The incident exemplifies the band’s difficult balancing act. Formed in Oklahoma in 1983, the Flaming Lips is among the best and most popular purveyors of psychedelic rock of the last three decades. The band’s concerts, however, have come to be known as zany spectacles rather than as showcases for its formidable catalog of music.
Madcap antics routinely clashed with sublime sounds throughout the Flaming Lips’ one hour and 40 minute performance. Blasts of confetti, dancing costumed figures and Coyne’s crazed cheerleading elicited roars of delight. Coyne sung “Vein of Stars” as he rolled into the audience in a translucent ball. The relatively anemic attendance allowed him to safely venture only about 30 feet from the stage.
The series of elaborate props and dazzling special effects obscured the occasional bursts of musical brilliance. The cosmic heartbreak conveyed by a sober reading of “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” was the most powerful demonstration of band’s emotional range. Partly concealed behind a bank of instruments, Stephen Drozd served as the mysterious man behind the curtain. His masterly effort on the complex introduction to “In the Morning of the Magicians” was exquisite.
Drozd and Coyne were joined by four separate musicians during a 45-minute opening set by Electric Würms. The outing was just the second public performance by the new group.
Aside from an aggressive light show that was capable of inducing seizures, Electric Würms didn’t employ gimmicks. The band focused on a pummeling blend of repetitious electronic rock and bombastic prog-rock. “Living” evoked the mechanical drone of Kraftwerk and a cover of “Heart of the Sunrise” replaced the technical mastery of Yes’ original version with snarling noise.
Temporarily liberated from the theatrical mayhem of the Flaming Lips, Drozd and Coyne appeared to be energized by their deliriously hypnotic experiment.
Abandoned Hospital Ship; She Don’t Use Jelly; Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1; In the Morning of the Magicians; Moth In the Incubator; Feeling Yourself Disintegrate; Race For the Prize; Vein of Stars; Look… The Sun is Rising; The W.A.N.D.; A Spoonful Weighs a Ton; Do You Realize??; Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds