My wife Denny and I went to see The Flaming Lips last night at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois. This a historic ballroom located on West Lawrence Avenue approximately five miles north of downtown in the uptown neighborhood, it was built in 1926. Starting in the 70’s many rock concerts took place here. A nickname for this venue was called the “brawlroom” because of the tough crowds. The architecture inside here is very Spanish looking with the different columns and such. I have been to dozens and dozens of concerts. BUT this was one concert hall that I just never went to before. Upon walking in here with my Benedryl-induced wife, we were deafened by this band called Marnie Stern. They were freaking loud! Weird, but they did have a technical style to them. I’m guessing the guys in the Flaming Lips chose them as their opening band. I’m sure they like them. My wife did not care for them so much. However I thought it wasn’t bad. It certainly set the mood for the live band experience. First we we approached the main floor arena area and were going to just stand in the back and watch. But I knew her feet would hurt and she’d probably stumble over since she was a little fatigued. Then I looked up and saw the historic looking balcony mezzanine section.
We went up the stairs and looked around at the audience of freaks (which consisted of dudes wearing bunny ears and animal costumes). The girls seemed to look normal but the dudes were funny with their outfits of choice. Anyway, we made it upstairs and scrambled to find a sitting area. We finally located ourselves behind these 2 thin columns. I actually grabbed an extra chair from the back and just plopped it right down next to her seat. We had a pretty ok view (about two thirds was viewable from our vantage point) We were content because we were sitting and could comfortably enjoy the show. There was about a 30 minute gap before Wayne Coyne (lead singer and songwriter) and the Lips took the stage. Lots of artsy synthesized vamping music set the mood. A couple next to us introduced there selves to me. I won’t mention their names but I think they were tripping on acid. Lots of smiles and hugs and touching were among them. Anyways they were harmless and it was all good. I saw a couple of guys from work there too. So it was good to be there among friendly mellow people. Now Wayne Coyne is a nice guy. He’s real friendly and tries to get the crowd in the mood. He succeeded. He talks a lot about the music in between songs and speaks well. Wayne warned us of all the flashing lights that would be used during the Flaming Lips performance and that if at any time if we felt sick, that we should take a break and grab some water. I thought this was an incredibly polite spiel, as most bands would not even bother to warn the audience of such things. A half moon sized lcd screen lies behind them all lit up in multiple colors and screen shot images.
The show begins with an image of a nude silhouette girl dancing around drums and slowly starting to bang them as the countdown begins to this freak ride we were about to take. The members arrive one by one through the screen. A door appears out of nowhere as they are entering through the screen. Big ballons drop from the ceiling. Confetti shoots from multiple sides. Wayne arrives inside of a big air bubble and starts crowd surfing as they push him all around. It is a funny sight. Lots of gimmicks were used to enhance the show. Loud sounds from these guys weren’t bad. You could say that these guys are psychedelic rockers! What we were in for was a real treat as they began playing their 1999 release The Soft Bulletin. in its entirety. Bulletin was a major turning point for the band as it was a critical success and truly their most artistic one yet. The album is considered one of the best in the band’s catalog. They really stretched it out to about 90 minutes. Like I said their was fog sprayed at the audience by Wayne as he wears a nice suit and jeans with what looked like a fur scarf around his neck. His hair is semi long, salt and pepper tones that match his beard. He even puts on these big hands and tries to pickup a balloon and throw it. There were serious moments too when he speaks of someone who lost a friend who was supposed to come to the show but died. So the song “Waitin’ for a Superman” was dedicated to him. Then there’s a mini encore break and they come out to do an INCREDIBLE cover of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage/Eclipse. Probably the best cover I have ever heard of this song. As before I mention this ginormous half moon projection screen so there are thousands of stimulating images that accompany the tunes before, during and after the floyd tribute. The song ends with this close up of a real human heart beating. Then it gets calm.
Now I should mention that there’s an interesting camera that captures the band shot from the just beneath section of the front row so its looking up and you can see the drummer and practically the nose hairs of the singer. But very inventive camera-work for sure. That being said, they conclude with their biggest hit and the official theme song of Oklahoma City….”Do You Realize? ” It was also played at our wedding reception and is a special song for me and my lovely wife. A very gnarly rendition of it was done that was inspirational even with projection images of giant bunnies and naked cheerleaders dancing around. Wayne gets emotional and bids the Chicago fans a fond farewell and says he loves this audience in particular as his favorite. Then the house lights come on and its over. “Please come again!” We stumbled out like cattle and drifted into the dark streets of the uptown and headed back to our car with muffled ears, enthusiasm and tired bodies. She and I had a really fun time. This was like a circus freak show. Visually, musically and vocally stimulating and entertaining. Loved it!