Saturday Night: The Flaming Lips Play Laser Tag at the Fox Theater

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Christopher Victorio
Wayne Coyne, bubble boy. (Due an unfortunate mix-up, these pictures are from Friday's Flaming Lips show, not Saturday's.)
The Flaming Lips 
October 2, 2010
@ The Fox Theater, Oakland 

Better than: Half a Dr. Atomix Bliss Bomb Depth-Charge Chocolate Brownie 

About the only thing you can say on behalf of Saturday night's massive eastbound traffic snarl was that it was marginally better than Jackie Greene's set at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. Three songs' worth of this fellow's rootsy-politian keening sent my girl and I over the hill to Haight St., where it took over an hour to get onto I-80 and another to the Fox's will-call line for the second of The Flaming Lips' two-night stand at this elegant Oakland venue. When we finally arrived, opening act Health was already long gone, and the stage was busy with scrambling roadies. I'd seen the Lips do their giddy stuff at The Palladium in L.A. (killed it) and All Tomorrow's Parties 2004 (the cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" came up a skosh short in the scrotum), so it was mildly surprising to see their usual cult of bunny-eared beat hippies replaced with a large generic haul of ready-for-pajamas hipsters.

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Christopher Victorio
Anon waddled out Wayne Coyne, the chief Lip, looking more manic than usual as he launched into an endearing Captain Kangaroo-flavored warning about the extreme nature of the giant strobe lights as well as the utter harmlessness of the laser pointers we were all handed upon entry. "We would never give the audience something to kill us with," he added, as if momentarily worried fans might mistake the Lips for a G.G. Allin tribute band and open up on full auto.

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Christopher Victorio
Before long, a force-ten blast of the band's patented high-art hullabaloo suddenly rose up and Wayne himself was soon frolicking inside a plastic bubble, rolling onto a raft of outstretched hands. The set itself was vigorous and end-to-end superb, leaning heavily on the heady psych-and-soda of last year's Embryonic and Coyne's irrepressible enthusiasm. At one point during "Vein of Stars" came the command to shoot Wayne and the stage was suddenly filled with red dots that Wayne deflected with a large mirror.

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Christopher Victorio
The set contained very few standards outside a heartfelt "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," the lyrics of which the crowd took right out of Coyne's mouth and sang back at him. It was at about this point that he stopped pleading for audience reaction and began basking in it, all the way up to the hair-raising din preceding the first encore, a cacophonous rendering of "The W.A.N.D." from 2006's War with the Mystics.

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Christopher Victorio
Another fakeout finale begat a second interval of hooting and stomping that rattled the elderly floorboards until the Lips returned an achingly tender "Do You Realize?" Dozens on either side of us were waving their outstretched hands palms up in classic praise-Jesus revival mode, faces sweaty and radiating un-ironic ecstasy from every pore. 

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Christopher Victorio
Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: A half-buried memory of tent revivals back in the Virginia hills that were every bit as fierce and almost as loud. 

Overheard: Me: "You know what? Fuck bluegrass!"  Wayne: "If the strobe lights freak you out, just put your head down and wait for the song to be over." Wayne: "All right, motherfuckers! We're close to San Francisco, so I hope some of the freak vibes made it across the bridge!" Guy behind me with laser pointer aimed at Wayne: "I got the fucker!" 

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Christopher Victorio
Setlist 
The Fear 
Worm Mountain 
Silver Trembling Hands 
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song 
Vein of Stars 
The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine 
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell 
The Ego's Last Stand 
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 
See the Leaves 
Powerless 
Closing blissed-out turmoil 
---- 
 The W.A.N.D.
-----
Do You Realize

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Christopher Victorio
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Christopher Victorio
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