LEWISTON – The Flaming Lips are among the few bands that can awe and confuse a crowd prior to playing. Before the Lips kicked off their Wednesday show at Artpark’s amphitheater, a few stagehands illuminated the stage with a row of silver orbs. A microphone stand was placed in the middle. Then, dozens of ropes were tethered from the orbs to the top of the stage, as if creating a hammock for a giant. A stagehand tied a baby doll to one of the ropes.
Frontman Wayne Coyne – decked out in a regal blue space suit, with blue hair streaks to match – mounted the center stage, shot confetti into the crowd, disappeared, reappeared, shot more confetti and left again.
After a smoke machine clogged the stage a few times, Coyne returned with his bandmates and promised the crowd “a magical, magical night” before they delved into the biting “Look ... The Sun Is Rising.”
Oh, Flaming Lips: You had us at the silver orbs.
The psychedelic spectacle of a Flaming Lips show would make for a lovely fever dream on any summer night. Their trademark theatricality was especially desired at Artpark after Wednesday’s opener: Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Thomas Fec, otherwise known as Tobacco. Tobacco’s dingy dance music is a good match for the Lips, but Fec’s stifled performance – with him and a cohort behind computers, letting beats drag as they yelled into vocoders – was not.
Tobacco’s set was abruptly and inexplicably cut short by a stagehand’s orders, and when the Lips took over, their craziness was much needed
In their latest shows, however, even the Lips are holding back – at least by their standards. After releasing this year’s aptly titled “The Terror” – their darkest, most dispirited album yet – the band accordingly toned their concerts down, with less confetti, fewer antics and an absence of the enormous plastic ball that Coyne famously cruises crowds in. About half of “The Terror” was featured in Wednesday’s set list. These icy songs don’t lend themselves to celebrating, so the Lips celebrated less than usual. Each performance had a phantasmagoria of lights, but the band barely moved for the whole set.
Confetti rocketed from the sides of the stage, but it was black. Coyne cradled the baby doll in a few songs, but it never made its seemingly inevitable journey into the crowd.
The downtrodden mood seeped into the band’s friendlier songs, too. “Race for the Prize” and “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” started slowly and sluggishly, played at quarter-speed and half-energy for a few minutes before coming to life. Even a cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel” had a warlike sternness. Compared with the band’s customary madness, this show felt like a comedown from a bad trip. Compared with most other bands, though, this was still an illusion of the grandest order.
Coyne repeatedly warned the crowd before each “sad” song, and told them to keep partying anyway.
“We don’t want you to feel sad tonight,” he said before “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” encouraging everyone to prove that “everything is all right.” The song’s last word – “Love” – looped as the band walked away, and flashed in gold letters on the stage for several minutes, until the crowd finally started chanting it.
The Lips returned for the encore, starting with a barebones rendition of “Do You Realize?” – asking in its first verse, “Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?”