by Mitch Goldman
That first album, Here It Is, released in '85, barely hinted at thelayered, nearly psychedelic sound the Lips would later achieve on their majorlabel albums in the 90's. Starting with their first Warner Brothers lp in '92(Hit to Death in the Future Head), the Lips have been churning outthick slabs of gorgeous guitar and keyboard collisions with wacky titles ("TheyPunctured My Yolk" "The Headache Versus the Magician"); only indie-rock Americapaid any attention until last year's surprise hit "She Don't Use Jelly." "Jelly"became a hit over a year after its parent album Transmissions from theSatellite Head was released, and it became a novelty hit in the world ofcorporate "alternative" rock. Luckily, this modest success had no effect on theLips, whose latest release, Clouds Taste Metallic is every bit asinfectious and bizarre as previous records. From the creaky sounds of "TheAbandoned Hospital Ship" to the science-fiction themes of "They Punctured MyYolk" and "Man who had a Headache and Accidentally Saved the World,"Clouds is the Flaming Lips at a lunatic-fringe peak.
Thanks to the postponement of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tour (on which the Lipswere due to open with Silverchair), the band was able to schedule a quickheadline tour of clubs in the US last December. Their hour-plus set in Atlantafound the foursome in fine, wacky form. As usual, the band was framed by astunning wall of colored Christmas tree lights which emphasized the frivolousnature of much of their material. Lead guitarist Ronald Jones was simply amazing,using his slide guitar chops to elicit keyboard and other "non-guitar" soundsfrom his axe; drummer Steven Drozd doubled on organ and piano on several tunes;and original Lips Wayne and bass player Michael Ivins held down the rhythmicfort. Wayne's vocals continue to reach the upper range (I think I saw quite a fewstray dogs hanging around the club!); he frequently yowls like an indie-rock NeilYoung.
The setlist only reached as far back as 1990's watershed In a Priest DrivenAmbulance record, their fourth lp; most of the tunes came fromPriest or the newly released Clouds (with a couple oftunes from the other two Warner albums). Yet the diversity of the songs made fora nicely balanced set...from the midtempo opening of "Abandoned Hospital Ship" tothe noise-pop of "Unconciously Screamin'"...from the novelty-tinged "She Don'tUse Jelly" to the art-rock epic "Moth in the Incubator"...from the fragilestylings of "Put the Waterbug in the Policeman's Ear" to the fuzz-ladendistortion of "Lightning Strikes the Postman," the Lips varied the tempo and moodof each song to keep a brisk pace throughout the set. The climax occurred duringa twelve minute version of Priest's "Mountain Side"...after twoverses, the song veered off into a lengthy jam that was drenched in feedback, yetnever abandoned the basic structure of the song's rhythm. With one foot (orguitar) in the song's tempo and the other in a heady, rush-filled wall of guitarharmonics, "Mountain Side" was a mini-journey through noise and melody. Theencore of Louis Armstrong's "(What a) Wonderful World" followed by a "WhiteChristmas" organ solo wound down the show in holiday style (oddly, the only timea smoke machine was used was during the "White Christmas" melody).
The Flaming Lips straddle the line between full-out psycho rock (like theButtholes) and overtly clever pop parody (like They Might Be Giants). While thepsychedelic density of their recent albums cannot be duplicated live, they morethan make up for it with the power and punch of their onstage attack. Don't befooled by their geographical heritage...these Okies are no rubes...they aresavvy, clever rockers with an impressive body of tuneful yet intense material.
The Abandoned Hospital
Hit Me Like You Did the First Time-> Take Me Ta Mars
She Don't Use Jelly Moth in the Incubator
Put the Waterbug in the Policeman's Ear
Lightning Strikes the Postman
Intro/When You Smile
Christmas at the Zoo
(What a) Wonderful World-> White Christmas (organ solo)