Classic Wayne Coyne – photo by Greg Homolka

Tuesday night freak icons The Flaming Lips rolled their carnival into Providence for an intimate mindfuck at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. Brooklyn’s Matt & Kim opened, but in effect they are both locals, growing up in Vermont and Rhode Island, respectively. Despite the venue’s heatwave stricken temperature, the duo’s energy immediately got the crowd moving, stomping through hyperactive versions of my personal favorite “Good ‘Ol Fashion Nightmare” and “Yea Yeah” as well as the cardiac “I Wanna”, with Matt leaping on top of his stool and kung fu kicking the surrounding air repeatedly. Mid-set, they rowdied the crowd with “Lessons Learned” and told the story of a man who streaked across their stage at Coachella recently, an homage to the song’s great video. But unfortunately, Matt explained, the man is now a registered sex offender in California. Their set was so refreshing; seeing two people so overjoyed to be playing their music. The smiles were like stage lights when Kim leaped on top of her drum kit to count off songs and wave to her family in the balcony, and Matt spiraled with one physical freakout after another. They ended with their hit “Daylight,” leaving the crowd breathless, sweaty, and full of anticipation. Perfect opener.

Then the rabbit hole started to open. A giant, half moon LED screen lit up fluorescent blue behind the stage, and a naked, yellow women began to dance and gyrate, seemingly pulling the crowd towards her. Eventually she sat down and spread her legs, and the image pulsed and zoomed inward…. Yes, of course the band entered the stage through her giant yellow vagina. Wayne Coyne then rolled out into the crowd in his usual human hamster ball, and was passed around the frantic crowd as the confetti cannons blasted and giant balloons spilled from the ceiling. Coyne birthed from his ball, grabbed a megaphone, and began shouting the lyrics to “Worm Mountain” through it. Normal way to open a show, right? The blazing “Silver Trembling Hands” came soon after, this time with Coyne atop the shoulders of lucky fan dancing in a full-body grizzley bear costume. The fever of the song was matched by the spectacle, every squeal accompanied by a burst of confetti. “She Don’t Use Jelly” maaaaaaagazine’d out next, inspiring both cheers of recognition and I’m-getting-old sighs. The song is always fun, though, and may never lose its silly appeal.

Later, the stalking “See the Leaves” chased onlookers around Lupo’s with its shamanistic drone. “Leaves” is one of my favorites from Embyonic, but no silliness here. Its dark drum claps and repetitive rhythm creates a haunting hypnosis that could send the faint of heart running for the doors. “The Sparrow Looks up at the Machine” has a mountain to climb just living up to its title, but the introductory fuzz instantly gives way to an auditory Venus fly trap that is quite difficult to escape.“What does it mean, to dream what you dream, to believe what you’ve seen?” sings Coyne over a swirling blanket of fuzzy bass and ominous cymbal crashes, a line that provides a fine summation of the band’s spectacular live show and musical history. “Sparrow” provided a fine example of the band’s newish lean towards straight psychedelia, which some fans don’t appreciate, that on this night provided the show’s highlight. A calming howl-a-long came next in the form of “I Can Be a Frog” with the audience filling in for Karen O for animal noise duties. Within three minutes, each audience member had been given the chance to be a bear, a bat, a Gila monster a warrior indian, a wolf, or any of several large cats. Growl accordingly. It was quite entertaining, but how did they know I’d always wanted to be a helicopter? With the chaos momentarily ebbed, the Lips performed two semi-acoustic gems, “In the Morning of the Magicians” and the beloved “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1.” Though there was a little sound trouble in the latter, these were two moments that proved impossible to bring down. Shit-eating-grins overpowered the urges to make Lupo’s a campfire singalong, and the songs were allowed to work their own cooling magic. In contrast to the violent peaks of “Sparrow”, this toned down portion of the set also provided a glimpse at the mellower masterclass that is the Flaming Lips. After a verbal hugfest from Coyne, and a raucous response from the crowd, the table was set for “Do You Realize?” to rollercoaster everyone out the door satisfied, stunned, happy, and in one case, dressed like a grizzly bear.