:: The Flaming Lips performing Dark Side of the Moon ::
:: with Primus ::
:: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: August 3 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
Les Claypool is a devilishly entertaining man. With almost vaudevillian swagger and a sharp musical mind — albeit a heavily twisted one — the man commands the stage in a way that few performers, and almost no bassist, ever has.
As the co-headliner Wednesday night, Claypool, along with fellow Primus crazies guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane, took to the stage while the sun was still out. That was a shock in and of itself. Dark clouds loomed on the horizon as we pointed our car south and headed out of Boulder toward Red Rocks, an hour or two prior. The weather reports hadn’t been favorable and that, coupled with the obvious rainclouds overhead pretty much assured that it’d be a wet night on the Rocks.
But Primus eschewed the rainstorm, and in fact the night went from nice to pretty much perfect weather: cool, but not cold, breezy, but not overly windy, and never too hot.
Claypool and company, with their often-used towering blowup spacemen flanking the stage set a great tone for an evening all about space exploration. And, apparently the night was about the exploration of some other things for Primus as well.
Claypool told the crowd that they had a new toy — a visualizer screen that turned their music into visual patterns, much like iTunes visualizers. Claypool even apologized for spending a bunch of time with his back to the audience, even though in truth, he didn’t face it that much.
With a long and very exploratory trek, the band opened with “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” from the album Frizzle Fry, before taking on “Those Damed Blue Collar Tweekers” off of Sailing the Seas of Cheese. An absolutely blistering version of “Southbound Pachyderm” followed.
Claypool commented the “very Boulder/Denver looking crowd” — and it was — had always been good to him and his band; good enough, in fact, that they planned on laying down some new material for the crowd. With that, they launched into a new track titled “Lee Van Cleef.” An astute teacher behind me was probably one of a small handful of folks in the whole amphitheatre who realized that the title was named after the mustachioed actor of the same name, who played Angel Eyes in the 1966 spaghetti western film The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. (Cleef’s character was “The Bad”, whereas Clint Eastwood was “The Good” and Eli Wallach was “The Ugly”). The track will appear on Primus’ new album Green Naugahyde scheduled to be released in September.
Primus brutally trounced through a few more tracks before closing their set with “My Name Is Mud.” It was a tremendous set that showcased not only the quirky side of Primus, but also the extreme playing ability of Les, Larry and Jay.
It was a relatively quick set change, and I realized while the Flaming Lips were getting set up that I love their transparency. Most bands playing Red Rocks have large crew that dial in all of their instruments before the band actually takes the stage. The Flaming Lips have never let that happen. Long before they start their set all members are on stage fidgeting around with their gear, and frontman Wayne Coyne seems to neurotically pace around in preparation. I don’t know why I like that aspect of this band so much, but there’s something reassuring about a bunch of guys who could play the primadonna role of “Go get my gear set up, peon” but don’t.
Coyne spoke to the crowd, explaining that this was not a normal Flaming Lips show, but prompted them to get ready for the space bubble that he starts each show with. He said his intentions were to make it to the middle in the space bubble, as he pointed toward the soundboard area. But after the lights had gone down, and each band member had taken the stage, via a sketchy looking plank that jutted out of the band’s ample multi-media screen which was showing clips of The Wizard of Oz, Coyne found that his bubble trip was going to be one for the record books.
We were sitting smack dab in the middle of row 28, and when the bubble finally stopped its uphill climb it, was about three or four rows behind us. The epic climb ended as Coyne returned to the stage, climbed out of the orb and the band launched into “Speak To Me.” But just as the crowd was getting into the flow of Dark Side of the Moon, Coyne and the Lips through us for a whirl, by throwing in a rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” And so it went throughout the night. The band would play a song or two from Dark Side and then a song from The Wizard of Oz.
It had never dawned on me before how “undanceable” some parts of Dark Side are, so to the Dorothy’s and Tin Men who were flanking the stage, I applaud you for keeping your bodies moving during “On The Run” and many of the less-melodious portions.
“Great Gig In The Sky” was not one of those moments though. Coyne never did introduce by name of the singer who came out on stage in a golden fairy suit with long, flowing wings. [Funny side note: one of the men in the group of guys next to us said, “what’s with the butterfly?” I turned to him and said: “You obviously don’t have daughters. That’s clearly a fairy, not a butterfly.”] Whoever the fairy was, she did a miraculous job on the vocals for the incredibly difficult song.
I had been hoping that the Lips would also be playing some of their own material during the show, but by the time they finally hit the encore and played the only song of the night that they wrote, “Do You Realize?” I actually found it slightly out of place, despite it being a wonderful rendition of an amazing song.
The Flaming Lips tackled Dark Side in 2009 with an actual release, but in many ways that release fell flat. Live however, the show was truly one of the most entertaining and interesting takes on two old classics — Dark Side and The Wiz. Brilliant in it’s quirkiness, but not so over the top that it took away from anything. Just one hell of a fun night.