Review: In St. Petersburg, the Flaming Lips deliver a whimsical art experience for Jannus Live (w/photos)

“It just puts a smile on your face.”

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

The Flaming Lips were halfway through their opening song — the uplift anthem “Race for the Prize” — and the confetti was flying and the fog was spewing and big balloons were bouncing and the vivid wall of light was flashing swirls of color, when my wife looked up at me and said, “It just puts a smile on your face.”

She was beaming.

I’m tempted to end right here. I can’t sum it up any better than Bonnie did. But it’s my general policy to write my own reviews, so I’ll continue.

The Flaming Lips elicited a lot of smiles during a show that clocked in at just under two hours Tuesday night at Jannus Live. Almost every one of the 16 songs featured a set piece, a whimsical gimmick, a psychedelic surprise:

Frontman Wayne Coyne slowly riding a fake horse festooned with blinking lights through the middle of the crowd; Coyne flanked by giant dancing inflatables (eyeballs; animals; lips, of course); Coyne’s trademark human hamster ball, in which he rolled over the crowd during a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”; and, always, that dazzling light show. A crowd favorite was the unfurling of a big silver balloon construct spelling out “Fuck Yeah St. Petersburg” (kudos for not taking the easy way out and going with “St. Pete”).

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

It should be said that this was my first Lips show — somehow I’d always been in the wrong place at the wrong time — but I’ve seen plenty of video so pretty much knew what to expect. Still, I was easily sucked in by the sheer wonder of the performance. Most arena-sized pop spectacles are choreographed to the hilt, but this scruffy gang from Oklahoma City does it themselves, warts and all. No room backstage to inflate the hamster ball? No problem: Coyne crawled in it right on the bandstand and someone flicked the switch to pump it up.

A Flaming Lips show is an all-encompassing sensory experience, a colossal real-time art project. At times it was easy to forget that there were musicians on stage playing their parts. Coyne — part angel (with a fondness for wearing wings), part trickster — played the affable ringleader, his strained tenor as fragile as butterfly wings. How much of the backing sound — beautifully mixed, by the way — consisted of pre-recorded samples? Who knows? Who cares?

About 40 minutes in — after “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” the uber-dreamy “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung” and an absolutely rousing “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)” — our faces were tight from smiling. But I began to wonder: can they keep it up?

Yes and (a little bit of) no.

To my taste, the set went a tad too heavy on ethereal, downtempo material, although I’m sure most of the stoners in the crowd had no objections. The middle section encountered a minor lull with “How??” and “The Castle” from the band’s latest album Oczy Mlody, as well as “The Observer” from The Soft Bulletin. Then the Lips yanked the crowd out of its reverie with the crunchy guitar riff from “The W.A.N.D.” — a barrage of lights and smoke drove the funky rock tune into the stratosphere.

For the first encore, the Lips hurled more delight at the crowd with the sing-along rocker “She Don’t Use Jelly.” During the finale, keyboardist Steven Drozd joined Coyne for a duet on the ballad “Waiting for a Superman” — which Coyne introduced as a sad song but insisted that the crowd keep the party going.

The closer, “Do You Realize?,” features the sentimental lines, “Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face?” and then deepens: “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die/And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know/You realize that life goes fast/It's hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn't go down / It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”

Words to exit a concert by.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge Clipping. plays Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
Clipping. plays Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017. - Michael Chavarria
Michael Chavarria
The Flaming Lips play Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 2017.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
Scroll to read more Music News articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]