The Flaming Lips, etc.
White Oak Music Hall
May 29, 2016
The Flaming Lips were always a band better experienced in person. While the band’s catalog is extensive, something about a Flaming Lips show goes beyond a typical rock concert. In short, it’s more of a carnival set to music than a live music show.
As much was evident as the Lips closed out a solid, sun-soaked (and pretty damn hot) festival at White Oak Music Hall on Sunday night. Varying colors of LED lights lit up the main stage, confetti coated the lawn and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne crowd-surfed in a giant plastic ball that bore a resemblance to a hamster ball.
This was the Flaming Lips in their element.
The band kicked things off with one of its few pseudo-hits – “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1,” a song that sounds direct enough but quietly serves as one big metaphor for a young woman battling cancer (this is the Flaming Lips, after all, among the more abstract bands you’ll come across). From there, the Oklahoma-based outfit spent much of its 80-minute set jamming for the crowd while dancing mushrooms did their thing onstage.
They bantered with the audience. They encouraged those in attendance to sing along. Hell, Coyne seemed downright delighted to be on the stage. This, in part, is what always separated the Lips from their indie-rock contemporaries. Whereas some bands of the indie cloth take great pains to brood and really explore the darkness of their craft, the Flaming Lips are a bunch of talented dudes who write songs about Japanese warriors who work for the city and fight pink robots in their free time.
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They don’t even mind throwing in a cover or two, as evidenced by the unexpected highlight of the evening: The thousands in attendance lost their collective heads when the Lips paid tribute to the late, great David Bowie with a cover of “Space Oddity.” That set the tone for the show-closing “Do You Realize?” arguably the Lips’ most noteworthy track and one that had everyone on the lawn singing in unison.
The Flaming Lips are a band tailor-made for the live experience, hence the festival's packing the crowds in despite the fact that the band hasn’t produced music of commercial consequence in a decade. It’s also a testament to a group that’s been able to remain viable for the better part of the past two decades, in part because the Lips legitimately appear to enjoy playing with one another.
The crowd at White Oak had a blast on Sunday night, partly because the festival-closing headliner appeared to be doing the same.
So, How Was the Opener? Well, there were several. Psychedelic legend Roky Erickson was an absolute pleasure to experience in person, and Adia Victoria followed that up with a great set of her own. Lucero – whose members were nice enough to hang out afterwards at Raven Tower and talk with fans – wowed the crowd with their 6:40 set, the highlight of which was “Texas and Tennessee,” which had diehards singing along and likely picked up some new fans along the way. And then there was Title Fight, a quality band who faced the disadvantage of playing just before the Flaming Lips, when the thousands in attendance were clearly ready for the headliners.
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Personal Bias: It’s hard not to like the Flaming Lips. Front man Wayne Coyne was outside at Raven Tower after the show taking pictures with fans and fully engaging in conversation with them (he couldn’t have been more gracious). Couple that with an epic headlining set, and you have one of the more crowd-pleasing festival bands going today.
The Crowd: Props to those on the lawn, who weathered 90-something-degree heat to catch the openers. By the time the Flaming Lips took the stage, there was no room to be had near the stage, and the lawn was packed as well. Those folks certainly deserved a good set after weathering Houston summer temps. Some folks headed out before the closing set, but most stuck around to see the Lips.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Adia Victoria sounds like Macy Gray mixed with Lana Del Rey,” said the plus-1. She meant this as a compliment, and she wasn’t wrong.
Random Notebook Dump: This was my second visit to White Oak Music Hall, and it was once again a pleasant experience. The beer and restroom lines move quickly, security is quick getting you through the gate, those who serve up the concessions are super-friendly, and the crowd is generally a laid-back, friendly lot. Parking continues to be a minor issue, but this is why cabs and Uber remain an option (having both driven and done the Uber route at White Oak, I’d recommend the latter if you live close enough to the venue). Also, props to organizers for managing space to the best of their ability. The main stage and side stage were snugly situated into their respective spots, and with acts rotating on each stage, it made for a great, smooth-moving festival.