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Give the Lips props for unfettered fun

With lights, confetti, an entrance in a `space bubble' and more, they embrace the beautiful and the ridiculous.

July 25, 2006|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

No one does this. Not the Rolling Stones or U2 or Madonna, not Barnum or Bailey. The Flaming Lips have created a festive, wild-eyed corner of live performance all for themselves, a place where nothing makes sense but to make the most of this passing moment of joy and reckless experimentation.

Fans already know this, and have seen the Oklahoma City rock act fill rooms big and small with amazing, confounding sounds and effects. And the Flaming Lips made full use of the wide-open spaces at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday. There were lights, confetti, leader Wayne Coyne's entrance in his giant "space bubble."

Crew members were dressed as Superman, Captain America and other superheroes. Bassist Michael Ivins wore a skeleton costume. And on one side of the stage, more than 20 revelers were dressed as Santa Claus, while just as many wore green alien heads on the opposite side. Thousands of glow sticks were distributed to fans.

All the props and gags inevitably do distract from the music, but they also illustrate Coyne's view of a larger, ecstatic, fun and dangerous universe at work. As big white balloons bounced over a crowd of 17,000 fans, Coyne and the band sought to embrace the beautiful and the ridiculous, where no idea was too big or too stupid to consider.

But the 70-minute concert was much more than a circus. Even as Coyne tossed out fistfuls of confetti, or picked up a fog machine, he sang of emotions that seemed heartfelt, even sweet, sounding both innocent and accepting amid the dreamy orchestral pop of "Do You Realize?":

Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes

Let them know you realize that life goes fast....

As Coyne strummed his acoustic guitar during "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," the result was gentle and absolutely sincere, practically heartbreaking -- even when he brought out the nun puppet to sing the final verses.

On "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" (from the band's new "At War With the Mystics" album), Coyne asked the kind of uncomfortable questions a child might: "If you could make everybody poor just so you could be rich, would you do it? ... With all your power, what would you do?"

The spectacle on Sunday represented exactly what the Lips want to do with their share of power. And Coyne stood at the center of it all, bearded and dressed in a sweat-soaked tan suit, orchestrating the band, the costumed characters and fans as easily as if from the comforts of a garage workshop.

The band's weakness for oversized props even invaded the performance earlier of support act Thievery Corporation, when Coyne joined the band on "Marching the Hate Machines" with giant, rubbery hands at the end of his arms. At the end of the night, the Lips delivered a heavy dose of darkness with a faithful reading of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," which Coyne warbled in front of a video screen flashing images of bombs exploding and the grim faces of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, returning his fans, once more, back to reality.

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