Beck & The Flaming Lips
Reviewed by Michael Chamy, Fri., Nov. 15, 2002
Beck & the Flaming LipsBass Concert Hall, Nov. 12
The final step into this stately academic venue was either entrance to the Greatest Show on Earth or gateway to the bizarre dreams of a fringe lunatic, depending on your tolerance for large furry animal suits. Flaming Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne was PT Barnum, and this was his theatre of the absurd. Some 20 pink and white elephants, giraffes, pandas, bunnies, and unidentifiable creatures clogged the corners of the stage, jumping up and down with giant searchlights as Coyne waved a billowing smoke machine in front of four giant disco balls. Occasionally, he'd use his guitar to puncture one of the giant, confetti-stuffed beach balloons surfing through the audience. All the while, the band, clad in furry costumes of their own, pounded out the giddy, orchestral alt.pop of opener "Race for the Prize," the new "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," and their MTV moment in the sun, "She Don't Use Jelly." As Coyne did his patented big-screen sing-along with a nun hand puppet, even the staunchest Beck fan had to wonder how Mr. Hansen could possibly compete with this spectacle. "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton," indeed. Beck, less rumpled than his endearingly sleepy performance at Austin City Limits the night before, again sounded relatively frail in his solo acoustic opening. That changed midway through Sea Change opener, "The Golden Age," when a rattling drum solo came out of nowhere and the lights revealed the Lips backing Beck behind a sheer black screen. Steven Drozd's pedal steel electrified delta stomp "Lord Only Knows" and "Tropicalia," while a vocoder worked a Devo-like robot funk on "Get Real Paid." Despite the yo-yo effect of the sold-out house (at least downstairs) -- standing for rockers and sitting for singer-songwriter fare -- it was the multifaceted Sea Change arrangements that shone, the Lips expounding on the eerie drones that give the album its vivid color. The subtly mutating big-screen video art and the Lips' decaying musical swell underscored the subtle brilliance of "Lonesome Tears," an abstract seminar on the wholesome effects of gradual change. The by-the-numbers absurdity of Coyne joining Beck on "Loser" and "Where It's At" at the end of the set rang hollow, though they injected needed life into the meaty riff of encore "Devils Haircut." Overall, Beck's new starry-eyed auteur persona came up roses, while nobody could quite recall whether they had seen the Flaming Lips play or whether it was all some wonderfully absurd leak from the recesses of the subconscious.