The Flaming Lips leave a lasting impression

Review: The over-the-top rockers capped a strong night of performances at the CMAC with sights and sounds that won't be forgotten.

The Flaming Lips are known for creating a near-circus during their performances with basic touches like confetti cannons to the more unusual items like giant puppet hands that emit lazers. In between sets by Fang Island and The Black Keys on Friday night at the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y., frontman Wayne Coyne could be seen sneaking onto the stage, waving at the crowd and helping stage crew move and position all this equipment. He told SPIN Magazine last year that this need to be involved was all part of the show. "You're gonna see us set up our stuff, see exactly how this works. You are gonna know that this is not magic. And yet, when the music starts, it's still gonna destroy you," he told the magazine.

Photo: Nathan Mattise
The Black Keys perform as openers for The Flaming Lips at the CMAC in Canandaigua, N.Y.

Consider all in attendance at the CMAC on Friday night destroyed. Wayne Coyne was the maestro and The Flaming Lips orchestrated not just a spectacle, but a show no one would forget any time soon.

The band played for nearly two hours spanning hits throughout their entire catalogue, from "She Don't Use Jelly" all the way up to "Worm Mountain" off their most recent release, Embryonic. The first five minutes of their performance alone were enough to leave a lasting impression on any fan. Every member of the Lips entered the stage almost like a professional wrestler would — one at a time, acknowledging the crowd from the top of a slanted runway while loud, rocking theme music blares. The Flaming Lips' twist to this was that band members entered the runway through a giant, LED screen that displays an unusual female door. Wayne Coyne was the last to be seen, rising up from the stage inside of his giant space bubble as it slowly inflated. As soon as it was ready, he rolled toward the crowd and did a lap away from and back to his stage.

After that, Coyne started singing and the show really began.

Being near the stage for the start of The Flaming Lips set was the most enegetic and memorable live experience I've had (sorry Girl Talk). It'd be easy for the show to calm down from there, but Coyne and company have really perfected their sets after 30-plus years as a band. The sound quality was high, Coyne interacted with the crowd more than any frontman I've seen, and the band continued to deliver new experiences throughout the night. These included the use of props like the hand lazers or Coyne riding the shoulders of a bear. There were also new musical approaches. There was an emotional medley of "Taps" and "The W.A.N.D." in the name of world peace and a stripped down version of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" that had thousands singing along about evil-natured robots. It's a testament to how dynamic the band is that everyone from the most casual to the most dedicated of fans was captivated by every calculated move from the Lips.

The buzz from the Lips' performance was only elevated by how strong the opening acts for the night were. Fang Island played a set that had a crowd who was still fidgeting around for beer and lawn space shouting, "Who are you? I need to know" (It's worth noting that they recently announced a late August show in Buffalo if you care to find out). The Black Keys were up next and by the time they finished their set I was convinced they would upstage The Flaming Lips. The duo provided a perfect contrast to what would come later in the evening — a no-nonsense block of hard blues-rock. They brought the crowd to their feet for good with riffs in songs like "Next Girl" and "Your Touch," and the intensity they had in their play demanded attention.

The night belonged to Wayne Coyne and crew in the end. They finished up the night with an encore, extended rendition of "Do You Realize??". Many of the fans near the back of the ampitheater stormed the aisles to be near the stage for it as Coyne serenaded all; several even ran on stage to hug him during the song. It was just a small token of the crowd's appreciation for the show. But the show itself was a much larger sign of The Flaming Lips appreciation for their fans, who receive the show of a lifetime night in and night out.

The Flaming Lips in concert - Canadaigua, New York, July 23, 2010

The Flaming Lips' fans wave in response to lead singer Wayne Coyne's gigantic puppet hands during the band's July 23 show at the CMAC in Canandaigua, N.Y. (Photo by Nathan Mattise)

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