Flaming Lips, Colorado Symphony Orchestra Soar at Red Rocks

It was only a matter of time, but, still, it only happened once. It was after the last of the confetti guns fired their joyous paper rainbows. It was after the last violin string plucked their textured whimsy into our hearts, and flitted away like an invisible butterfly into the crisp Colorado air. It wasn’t until the Flaming Lips had vacated the stage to be whisked away on a tour bus into the night-dark cloud billows. Only then did it happen. I cried.

To be sure, the pairing of the Flaming Lips with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and their full choir at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre on May 26 soared. The lush orchestra arrangements blended angelically with the Lips performance of their 1999 breakthrough album, The Soft Bulletin. Early in the show, lead singer, Wayne Coyne, donned a metal halo bowl and a robe of reactive rope light that made him appear like an alien Bible prophet with an amazing technicolor dream coat. A vast array of LED lights hung above the stage added the otherworldly glow of the show.

Flaming Lips 2016-22

But what deepened the raw emotion for me was an announcement from my family, prior to the concert, that my father’s brain cancer had entered its final stage. I was rattled, and it was difficult to conceive how I might enjoy the performance, much less be able to write a semi-coherent review of the show afterward. But Coyne’s lyrics have always reached for the transcendent and eternal by reminding us of our mortality. The Lips’ music has always sought to find a sense of wonder by realizing the brevity of human life. Coyne’s primary message to concert audiences has always been, the sooner we accept and embrace our ephemeral nature, the sooner we will accept and embrace life. And love one another. Those simple, soft undercurrents of tenderness have always given the spectacle of the band’s stage show it’s spark and emotion. The orchestra and choir only heightened the emotional textures of the performance.

Near the evening’s end, the white, hot blade of stage light sliced through the flurry of confetti and split open my fractured thoughts with the fan favorite, “Do You Realize?” With his reedy tenor voice Coyne plaintively asked, “Do you realize/everyone you know someday will die?” The song isn’t intended as a warning, but as an invitation to show an appreciation for loved ones and life. That invitation carried through with a closing cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that Coyne performed perched near the 25th row inside his trademark hamster ball. “Far above the world/Planet Earth is blue/And there is nothing I can do.”

I was overcome by the moment. I was finally close enough to read the words on Coyne’s pink T-shirt. “My Heart Is Nuclear!” the shirt proclaimed. It was one of those nights could remind one, that even in the face of profound sorrow, there is reason for gratitude. And it was one of those shows that makes one consider that maybe it is true. Love, perhaps is all we need under a dark night sky swirling with rainbow confetti.

Setlist: Race for the Prize, A Spoonful Weighs a Ton, The Spark that Bled, The Spiderbite Song, Buggin’, What Is the Light?, The Observer, Waitin’ for a Superman, Suddenly Everything Has Changed, The Gash, Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, Sleeping on the Roof

Encore: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1, Do You Realize?

Encore 2: Space Oddity (David Bowie), The W.A.N.D.

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