Concert Review

The Flaming Lips' Carnival Concert Was A Perfect Match for the Arizona State Fair

The Flaming Lips are known for their wild performances and colorful theatrics on stage. Yet, there is a lot more to their flamboyant productions than first meets the eye. Last night at the Arizona State Fair, frontman Wayne Coyne showed the entire coliseum the deep roots of his musical mission.

Touching down at the Arizona State Fair is sensory overload enough. Lucid, rainbow carnival lights fill the air in every direction. There is a ski lift appearing and disappearing from an invisible point of departure arcing across the top of the entire fair. Wild hammers flash and fly 360 degrees, catapulting riders at high velocities. Rainbow slides dip down from unimaginable heights. Walking through the State Fair almost feels like the Flaming Lips' show has already begun. Perhaps a little trip into the cerebral cortex of Wayne Coyne and the rest of the Flaming Lips would partially resemble the fairgrounds. 

Coyne walked onstage at Veterans Memorial Colisseum wearing a pink and blue jacket that made him look like a giant cotton candy bear. The second song in the set was the band's instantly recognizable "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1." As Coyne sang, “she’s a black belt in karate,” the music stopped and the lights flashed. The crowd didn't sing along quite enthusiastically enough for Coyne. (Apparently it's a stunt the band has pulled at different concerts recently.) He said the crowd would have to do better than that. During round two, the entire coliseum screamed in unison. A big, fat smile wiped across Coyne’s face.

Before the next song, Coyne launched a giant balloon with the words “Fuck Yea Phoenix” into the crowd. The front row was like a splash zone, being painted with flying glitter and knocking around massive balloons.

The concert began to feel like musical therapy composed of colored sound as massive multimedia art covered the stage and Coyne struck a giant gong. Every time he hit the center of the gong, big circles along the edges of the instrument lit up with wild colors, the visual effect being similar to the lights found outside at the State Fair. 

For one song, Coyne picked up the guitar and played some really simple, yet beautiful guitar licks alongside a calm backdrop of the band. It was a soft instrumental moment that allowed Coyne to express the emotions of his songs without words. 

Before an emotional piano ballad Coyne said, “Sometimes if we get really into it, [the music] has a way of getting to the audience and making them feel sad, but we don’t want that. So if you feel like it’s starting to get too sad, just kick through that shit, and scream and scream and scream, because it is our duty and it’s the greatest thing we get to do, to sing our songs to you.”

With that, a slow number began, and only the keyboardist and Coyne remained on stage. It was a song of loss, and Coyne bared it all. For a moment, all the sensory stimuli paused, leaving only the gentle melody of the piano and his words. 

Before the crowd could recover, the entire band was back on stage, and the groove train rolled out hard. If there was anything the Flaming Lips offered during the concert, it is the idea that anything is possible. Wayne Coyne, a man that worked at a Long John Silver’s for 13 years, was up on stage blowing up inflatable rainbows, hugging giant sailors and frogs, and reaching into his pocket full of confetti to throw over the crowd.

Suddenly the opening notes of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” rang out, and Wayne Coyne appeared in his signature giant inflatable ball to sail across the audience. The crowd stood on top of their chairs in the pit and the whole coliseum began singing in unison. As the song ended, the concert began the descent back to reality. As an encore, the band played “Do You Realize?”

First Coyne offers up a final word: “We know there are people who come to the show to escape real sadness, to lift you up. If they’re standing in the audience with you tonight, you’ve changed their fucking life. You gave them great happiness. That’s what the Flaming Lips is all about. We are the luckiest band.”
The crowd sang along for that one too, which really sealed in all the lessons of the night. “Instead of saying all of your goodbyes let them know you realize / You realize that life goes fast / It’s hard to make the good things last / You realize the sun doesn't go down / It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”

Critic’s Notebook

Last Night: Flaming Lips at the Arizona State Fair.

The Crowd: A heady mix of hardcore Flaming Lips fans, happily surprised fair-goers that have never heard of the band, parents with children, and 20- to 40-somethings covered in glitter.

Personal Bias: The first (and only) time I saw the Flaming Lips was at All Good Festival in 2012. I could hardly see over the crowd, but the massive, psychedelic theatrics and high vibe, immediately put them on my radar. 
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Kayla Clancy is a musician, writer, and film photographer. In between travels, she lives in a cottage in downtown Phoenix and listens to psychedelic rock.
Contact: Kayla Clancy