In preparation of their fourth annual New Year’s Freak-Out, The Flaming Lips spent most of December 2010 re-arranging songs from their 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin – some of were never played live, most of which had not been played recently, and none of which had been played quite the way they did in the first hour of 2011: Wayne described the new live arrangments to Rolling Stone as “all kinds of stuff that sounded pretentious back in the day but now its like ‘Fuck yeah! It’s big and bombastic!.” Ray Suen adding timpani, gong, synth keyboard, electric violin and harp…
Wayne Coyne told newsok.com, “Some of the (Soft Bulletin’s) songs we’ve never played (live) before so it’s kind of thrilling from a musical standpoint, but also kind of nerve-wracking from a musical standpoint, ’cause it’s difficult music. I don’t know, some people wouldn’t know ‘The Soft Bulletin’ that much, but some of the tracks are just, they’re these humongous, strangely played (songs)… When we were doing ‘The Soft Bulletin,’ I mean like we do all our records, you don’t consider can you really play this stuff (live). You just make music any way you can (in the studio) and get on with it… We have tried to play them, and I didn’t feel like they were very successful, so that’s really where the work is, to try to not just play them, because as notes and things go, it’s not hard to play, but it’s hard to find where is the dynamic in some of that stuff, It’s tough.”
“If that one hadn’t been as successful or revered as it is, I don’t know what we would’ve made of ourselves. I think we felt this strange confidence that we should just do this music, this art, this sound, this thing that we wanted to do, and not give a s—. And part of us was very defeated and insecure, thinking that maybe perhaps this is the end of our group. … We started in ’83, so by the time you get to 1999, we’d been around a long time, even by then… And then it started to really snowball, like, ‘Hey, you know, this is one of those records.’ And that’s really what set us on to where we are, even now. I think without that thing happening, I think we could have easily disappeared into just being some weirdos that make interesting music in their living rooms and not be this band that plays and makes records and goes all around the world now.”
The Flaming Lips may make playing their albums live an annual tradition; Wayne told rollingstone.com, “It seemed as though we should start with this one and see if anybody gives a shit. People always ask us to do those types of shows. I know in recent shows there hasn’t been very much Soft Bulletin live – that came out when a lot of our fans were 10 years old.”
The Flaming Lips played Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in full for New Year’s Eve 2009-2010 at midnight (and again at Bonnaroo 2010) and they performed much of The Who’s Tommy on a 1986 tour – but only once before have they played one of their own albums live: 1990s In a Priest Driven Ambulance on January 28, 1995 (long before the current trend of band’s playing their albums in concert).
George Lang reviewed The Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin live for newsok.com:“Performed in order, the “Soft Bulletin” set began with a symphonic swell building toward “Race for the Prize,” but while that single is a concert staple for the Flaming Lips, it was songs the band rarely plays such as “The Spiderbite Song” and “Buggin'” that caused the most buzz. During “Spiderbite,” Coyne offered a moving commentary, telling the crowd how a spider bite nearly resulted in an amputation for multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, and how bassist Michael Ivins suffered a near-fatal car crash, and how those events inspired the song.
Although it was well after midnight, most of the crowd stayed around for the 2011 portion of the evening, and was audibly moved by the musical and visual spectacle of “What is the Light,” which was accentuated by flickering lasers and icicle lights “dripping” from the Cox Convention Center’s ceiling.
But the loveliest moment of the evening was the Lips’ performance of “Waitin’ For a Superman,” a song Coyne wrote about the death of his father. The band accentuated the song’s elegiac tone with Brian Wilson-style harmonies and crashing gong strikes, and the audience gave Coyne one of the warmest ovations of the night.
With Friday night’s performance, the Flaming Lips proved that not all year-end concerts are created equal. In Coyne’s estimation, 2011 deserved an exceptional “Freak Out.”
The one disappointment of the evening was for fans who weren’t able to make it to Oklahoma for the show and were depending on the webcast to watch the début performance of The Soft Bulletin live (and likewise, for fans who were there but were looking forward to watching a professional filming of what they had witnessed via the January 2nd webcast). Rolling Stone advertised their stream with iClips as a “New Year’s Eve Concert Pass” to The Soft Bulletin live – “This New Year’s weekend, Rolling Stone is teaming up with iClips to stream… a New Years Eve “freakout” that will include a full-album performance of the band’s 1999 fan favorite The Soft Bulletin.”
But come January 1st, they cut the stream off after “Race For the Prize” – the first song, and least anticipated (considering its one of the most played songs in Flaming Lips live history). Thankfully, tapers in attendance captured this historic performance and are posting their footage on the web. The best of it comes from Dinc Studio SF (one of the greatest YouTube channel for Flaming Lips live footage):
Naturally the Flaming Lips’ dedicated fans were thrilled for a long show featuring all of the band’s most critically acclaimed album – even the track not released on the US version of the album, “Slow Motion” (played for the first time ever). But the true triumphant of The Soft Bulletin live on NYE was its ability to turn-on those who went not because they are huge fans, but because it was something to do on the biggest party night of the year.
The doubters all were stunned – antiquiet.com‘s review captured it: “While many in the crowd had left after the countdown, those who remained were treated to one of the best albums of the late 90s, including several almost VH1 Storyteller moments where Wayne broke down what the songs were about. For the most part however, the band was quiet and let the songs do the speaking.
Track by track, the Flaming Lips gave their most critically acclaimed work new life. The arrangements were roughly the same, but the actual performances were quite honestly breathtaking. Race for the Prize has been a live staple for the band for years, but when put into the context of the album it serves as a perfect way to gear up those in attendance for what was about to happen. The song oozed emotion, raw feeling and it was immediately apparent that the Lips were excited to play the entire album.
Buggin’ was played live for only the second time in the Lips’ history, and the crowd loved every minute of it. Wayne once again asked the crowd to contribute insect noises, and they very loudly (and happily) fulfilled his request. The group’s harmony work really came to life and offered further explanation as to why some critics hailed the album the Pet Sounds of the 90s. The band sounded perfect, and while Coyne was a little dodgy with the lyrics of the track, the song still came across incredibly well.
What Is The Light? was accompanied by a captivating laser show and the song’s simply melody and epic, pulsating bass and drum combination made sure the crowd was still paying attention this late into the show. The lighting helped to punctuate the piano chords and Coyne’s vibrato vocal work, and altogether it was one of the big highlights of the night.
Things slowly started to wind down, and the show ended with the fantastic one-two punch of Feeling Yourself Disintegrate and Sleeping On The Roof… hauntingly beautiful, with swirling guitar work and relying heavily on the band’s great harmony work. It quietly evolved into Sleeping On The Roof, which started off slow and peaceful before turning into increasingly loud distorted sounds. It was a strange, yet effective way to end the long night of music.
I truly haven’t ever been a huge fan of the Flaming Lips, but this was my first time seeing them live. Now my opinion is completely different — this is a band that one simply needs to see live. While the show was long, perhaps too long for just casual fans; hardcore Flaming Lips fans got one of the greatest shows of the year. “The year” being both 2010 and 2011.
The New Year’s Eve Freakout was more than a concert, it was a true experience. A giant dance floor complete with balloons, confetti guns, costumed dancers and giant human-sized hamster balls. It became clear just a few songs into the evening that the Lips know how to throw a party, and they carried that momentum all the way into the next year. I can without a doubt tell you where I will be next New Year’s Eve.”
Click here for more on the 2010- 2011 Freak-Out.
Watch highlights from other 2010-2011 shows, here.
Ray Suen is joining The Flaming Lips for NYE. Learn about him and his Magic Space Harp – here.
The Soft Bulletin not-so-suddenly changed everything for The Flaming Lips: Think of the Past: The Soft Bulletin.For the latest on The Soft Bulletin live, New Year’s Eve, songs of the day, music news, Flaming Lips quotes and more, follow twitter.com/FutureHeartDay.