Houston, you don't get a spectacle like this but maybe once a year. Last October we had U2 with the Claw inside Reliant Stadium, putting on a show that literally had the building shaking with spirit and goodwill. Sunday night at Eleanor Tinsley Park, the Flaming Lips closed the second Summerfest with love, lasers, and Brother Wayne Coyne preaching from his mirror-balled pulpit.
Nothing else this year will come close to what happened for two hours just blocks away from downtown, save maybe a Led Zeppelin reunion at the Toyota Center. But even then we doubt that Robert Plant will have gigantic foam hands shooting green lasers from the palms.
The hour before the Lips' first solo Houston date in a decade reminded Aftermath of the minutes before an electrical storm. The energy in the air was thick and musty as stagehands got volunteers into orange jumpsuits and brought balloons to stage on the Lips' stomping grounds.
We all knew this was going to change the entire mood of the Houston world for a few hours; people were waiting for that release they had only read about or seen in concert films. Damn the mud of the day, the sunburned skin and the alcohol-induced lethargy. Even on your television, their wonderment comes through. Live, it's like a big sweaty and glittery hug. The crowd was jammed into the space in front of the stage before the band's gear was pulled out.
Lips shows aren't gigs, they are events. They subsist on festivals, the better to throw down at. You have a captive audience, a huge palette of souls to work on, and enough physical room to make every gesture grand. They are the fearless and freaky U2, perfect for those of us who need a shot of mysticism to go with saving the world.
If you don't leave a Flaming Lips show with your face sore from grinning like an idiot or even with wetted eyes, Coyne would probably put on a show just for you and you alone to pull you into his spaced party. He had been on the grounds as early as 7 a.m. to see that the set was to the band's spec and even watched locals like Muhammadali and Black Congress play on the main stage he would occupy later. He seemed to have taken a shine to BC, getting a copy of their newest seven-inch after their set.
The band and their cast of drafted local dancing volunteers hit the stage around sundown. The famous walking bubble came out first, with Coyne manning the inside for a few minutes until he came back onstage and emerged from it to grab the mike to rev up eight-minute opener "The Fear", which lead into "Worm Mountain" from last year's metallic-garage record Embryonic
Each song had its own mood lighting and attitude, with Coyne's visions coming through for each five-minute movement. The setlist was marked with notes on what he would use on each one, be it streamer guns, a megaphone, or a maracas. That set list was also very heavy on Embryonic
material, which on record is an acquired yet worthwhile taste. It's easily one of the most live-ready Lips albums, at least since 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
. Judging by the list, "Waitin' For A Superman" was cut out for time and would have been the sole entry from The Soft Bulletin
of the night (almost).