Lost In Space

Riot a Party City near you with Sean at [email protected]

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Maybe it was the threat of Daft Punk stealing their title of “Least Productive Studio Band That Still Puts on a Legendary Live Show,” but the Flaming Lips have finally released a live concert film.

“U.F.O.s at the Zoo” finds the band playing a homecoming show in Oklahoma City to hordes of fearless freaks from far and wide, several of whom get screentime to muse about the band, their experiences with the group’s music, or just to play a Lips tune on the guitar as they wait for the show to start. And the concert, like most of the band’s shows in recent years, focuses largely on material from last year’s At War With the Mystics, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and sprinklings from The Soft Bulletin, the group’s 1999 masterpiece. Meanwhile, superheroes provide interpretative dance accompaniment onstage while confetti falls like rain upon the screaming crowd.

It is, in simpler terms, the same show that the Flaming Lips have been doing for years on end, at every festival around the planet. The same show, with the same setlist they’ve been playing ever since Coyne opted by and large to act as MC to what appears to be a riot at Party City.

To be fair, this can be a highly entertaining combination of good-hearted tunes, lighthearted shenanigans and fake blood—just as long as you’ve never seen the band in concert before. For newcomers, the Flaming Lips live experience can be a truly uplifting experience: The songs, while never in abundance nor offering a comprehensive look at the band’s entire career, are wisely chosen to fit the band’s reincarnation as gonzo hippies, while Coyne’s antics offer certain charms. His “space bubble” crowd walk in particular seems to have become an iconic ritual in the resurgence of huge summer festivals.

The problem, then, is that seeing the band more than once destroys the idea that you’ve seen something special. Coyne’s banter between songs starts to sound unnervingly familiar, and the time-consuming gimmicks—whether it’s hand puppet sing-a-longs, or complete pauses in the music to talk to the audience—are executed dutifully for everyone expecting them after they saw Coyne perform them on YouTube.

“U.F.O.s at the Zoo” has all of those hallmarks, as well as the induction of a new one which has since become a standard: the group’s entry onstage via U.F.O.

In the interludes during the film, Coyne gives us a bit of history: it started as a joke, but when the press and fans started taking him seriously, he decided to build it in his backyard. The validity of that statement seems dubious, though Coyne doesn’t downplay his feelings of its importance: “The worst thing in the world is when you have something spectacular that no one cares about … it just seems like a great vision,” he says.

It’s hard to dog Coyne for his enthusiasm: he appears appreciative of his audience and the bond they share with his music in a way that’s more genuine than many musicians his age. And yet, his desire to make every stage the band plays on an overturned toy box has forced the group to cut down on how much music they play live—and certainly the endless touring has effected the time that could be spent producing new music.

Underneath it all, Coyne’s songs still resonate. “Do You Realize??” has not lost any of its brutal honesty in its dealings with death, and “Race For the Prize” contains an unwavering faith in mankind that may be the band’s defining theme in their current incarnation. But if that celebration of life continues to translate into a love of visual gags and party favors, then the Flaming Lips may be heading towards the unglamorous and unfortunate status of being a novelty act.


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