Wayne Coyne made a point of getting his hair done for SXSW. The otherworldly frontman of Oklahoma experimentalists The Flaming Lips looked absolutely cosmic as he ran through a brief soundcheck at Auditorium Shores. “I have too much shit,” Coyne kept remarking while the crew laced LED lights from reflective semicircles to his shoulders. The ribbons of blinking lights draped over Coyne like elongated tentacles caught in the seafoam hues of his mid-length coat. Coyne clung fervently to a baby doll throughout the performance, adding an extra layer of weird to the mix.
A record crowd witnessed a priceless set from The Flaming Lips at Auditorium Shores; an exceptional feat bolstered by the fact that the show was free. Though their set at Warner Bros. Sound touched on a few new tracks, the entire first half of Friday night’s performance was dedicated to playing through forthcoming album The Terror. Recalling the monumental shifts seen in The Soft Bulletin, each track popped and hissed with ethereal energy. When The Flaming Lips said they wanted to bring SXSW a shocking performance, out came the translucent bubble gliding above the crowd, propelled by a topless woman.
Trusses raised and lowered streams of crisscrossed lights and lasers, complete with a white center ring circling Coyne’s head like a halo. At one point Sarah Barthel, frontwoman of Phantogram, joined the Flaming Lips for the collaborative epic “You Lust” opting to sit next to Coyne. “Sarah said she’d only sing if I pulled her hair,” he playfully teased, “and I bet she’s going to sing damn well.”
“You Are Alone” was quintessential Flaming Lips, starting off with a call-and-response questioning the very title. The cinematic soundscape perfectly complemented the latter half of their set, which included a majority of the critically acclaimed Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. “You’ve heard something we’ve never played before, now you’ll hear something you know,” Coyne remarked before launching into “Flight Test”. Though time constraints prevented the Flaming Lips from playing all eleven tracks of Yoshimi, they got as far as crowd-pleasing classic “Do You Realize?” which included a special treat: “Justin Timberlake”.
“He’s been drinking a lot tonight,” Coyne said with a laugh, as a skeptical audience coyly cheered and chanted. Once a suit and tie-clad man did emerge with a fluorescent green mask, it didn’t take long before it was revealed to be Jim James, who had just performed before The Flaming Lips’ set. James took the space Barthel left on the floor, sitting, stretching, and standing as he swapped vocal duties with Coyne, harmonizing and uniting an audience whose voices were set to give out as they sang along.
When the final echoes of “Do You Realize?” faded with the instrumentation and James and Coyne embraced, many in the audience followed suit. The minimalist ode to existence itself capped off an exceptional night of performances from openers Divine Fits and Jim James himself. SXSW has once again truly outdone itself.