As anyone who has witnessed a Flaming Lips show can tell you, the whole thing is a balance of song and spectacle. The latter is always there — Flaming Lips shows are likely known best for the antics involving lasers, confetti, smoke, lights and, of course, Wayne Coyne traversing the crowd in an inflatable ball. The songs, however, can get lost in the haze, serving more as a platform for the party to spring forth.
But to a sold-out crowd at Pittsburgh’s Trib Total Media Amphitheatre, Coyne and company struck a near-perfect balance, bashing through both party tricks and great music during a two-hour set on Tuesday night.
Located on the banks of the Monongahela River, wedged between downtown Pittsburgh and Mt. Washington, the venue was a win for the Lips before they played a note — it already seems otherworldly without any hallucinogens. But the band took further advantage of the setting: just before the Lips took the stage, Coyne told the crowd he’d set up microphones along the riverside train tracks that bordered the amphitheatre.
“How often do you get treated to a 40-car caboose? I think it’s beautiful!” said Coyne.
As the Lips finished the classic ‘She Don’t Use Jelly,’ a train chugged by and the mics were turned on.
“We’ve never gotten to play a show where a train was just 40 feet away,” said Coyne, in genuine awe. “We always take advantage of anything that makes a wonderful noise.”
Few bands so naturally include the audience as the Flaming Lips. Though Coyne urged the crowd to “Come on!” almost as much as he sang actual lyrics, he held the audience’s attention the whole show. ‘I Can Be a Frog,’ from last year’s double album ‘Embryonic,’ with its lyrical list of animals, had the crowd buzzing, growling and roaring like some kindergarten sing-along made for a very adult party.
With the menacing ‘See the Leaves,’ the band dove into the night’s deepest groove and broke out sparkling lasers to accent the humid night sky.
The show ended on a less than surprising note with ‘Do You Realize??’ — the song has become the Flaming Lips’ calling card, and though it was an expected closer, it still packed a joyful emotional punch.
Relying on the same video/light show as tours last year, the Lips may need to make some changes to their spectacle to match the boost of new songs. But, at least in Pittsburgh, the spectacle and song balance was note perfect, and the party was in the air.