By Nikki M. Mascali
MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The Wellmont Theatre could possibly be the best backdrop for a night of Flaming Lips music. The cavernous venue, which opened in 1922, has crumbling plaster amid its opulent ceiling décor, and that shabby chicness is the perfect antithesis of the band’s modernistic “peace-and-punk-rock” vibe.
While a smaller stage than the Oklahoma City-based band is likely used to from its frequent festival appearances, there was no dialing down of the Flaming Lips’ well-known stage production, which can be described as a futuristic exploration of reflective surfaces.
The stage set consisted of a mass of shiny, silver domes overlaid with a nest of liquid light ropes with a giant video screen behind them. Mastermind Wayne Coyne stood atop the chrome-plated altar, clad in a colorful, reflective-material suit, like a wacky mad messiah preaching to his subjects.
From the early moments of the ethereal and industrial set opener “Look…The Sun is Rising,” from the group’s latest album “The Terror,” to the final moments of the encore, the show was sensory overload. The tripped-out music went hand-in-hand with the bold, colorful lights that seemingly shot out of Coyne’s mic stand, down the silver half orbs and back up the ropes behind him as strobe lights occasionally flashed.
The otherworldly title track from “The Terror” followed, preceding an upbeat “The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)” from 2006’s “At War with the Mystics.” The wispy “Silver Trembling Hands” came before another track from the new album, the slow-building “Try to Explain.” The Lips immediately dove into “Race for the Prize,” a noisy, fun song from 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin.”
Two more songs from “The Terror” came back to back. “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” came first, which was both light, thanks to Coyne’s vocals, and dark, with mechanical sounds courtesy of Steven Drozd. The lengthy “You Lust” followed, and the track features a steady marriage of throaty organ and the creepily whispered repetitive refrain, “Lust to succeed.”
The spacey “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” from 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” preceded an anthemic cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which prompted a passionate, if not rambling, speech from Coyne about how we should all be heroes every day.
“Do You Realize?” — arguably one of the band’s best-known (and most anticipated tracks of the night) — offered a buoyant close to the set proper. The band encored with “All We Have is Now” and another new song, “Always There, In Our Hearts.”
Thursday’s show was truly a fan’s dream because, as Coyne addressed early on, the band needed to fill a full set as opposed to the hour or so it usually gets at festivals. So the omission of “She Don’t Use Jelly” or “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” made “Do You Realize?” even more of a highlight because the band had time to explore both its back catalog and latest work.
Whether from the electric ropes hanging from the ceiling, the strobe lights or the red and green lasers slicing through the air, each song was accompanied by blasting, flashing lights, making the show a mixed-media audible and optical mind meld.
The Flaming Lips has always been a band ahead of its time, and any time, really, in sound, look and mindset, but perhaps its mantra can best be summed up in the lyrics of “All We Have is Now”: “You and me were never meant/ To be part of the future/ All we have is now/ All we’ve ever had was now.” So instead of trying to decided what exactly a Flaming Lips show is, it’s best to blink away the blinded-by-the-lightness and revel in the here and now the band makes you acutely aware of.