BECK AND THE FLAMING LIPS at Massey Hall, October 20. Tickets: $42.50-$49.50. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNN
you take the flaming lips ontour with you at your own risk.This is a band that knows the value of entertainment, whether it's tossing a couple of giant, glitter-filled balloons back and forth with the crowd or screening a surreal interview between frontman Wayne Coyne and Brian Wilson before their set. So it's no surprise they gave headliner Beck a run for his money as star attraction Sunday.
Predictably, the Lips' opening set was more freak show than rock performance. While 20 or so local fans in zebra costumes, bunny suits and stuffed fish heads danced around onstage and provided their own homemade light show with flashlights, Coyne and his crew played their orchestral psych pop in front of giant disco balls and films of mad conductors, atomic explosions and Japanese girl gangster movies.
For three songs, it was outlandishly perfect. Then one of the bunnies unplugged something and the multimedia extravaganza shuddered to a stop. Rather than storm off the stage, the Lips continued with a seriously unplugged set that featured Coyne unveiling his previously hidden talent as a sensitive crooner. It was a remarkable recovery. Beck had his work cut out for him.
As sombre as the music on his recent Sea Change album, the uncharacteristically sullen singer/songwriter played three solo acoustic tunes before the Lips returned as his backing band. The change in mood was instant.
New folk songs like The Golden Age became massive psych-pop affairs, while older Beck classics like Loser and Devil's Haircut sounded fresh for the first time in years, partly because Coyne et al seemed to be having so much fun playing them.
Even when he was playing the supporting role, Coyne was still the star, shouting into a megaphone, twirling a lamp around his head and winding the crowd up with fist pumps. Beck tried to get into the spirit by whipping his guitar around his back, but only succeeded in clobbering himself in the head.
Maybe he should leave the showmanship to the real entertainers.