After more than a decade of beefing up their carnivalistic live act to the point of appearing bloated, the Flaming Lips scaled back on the sideshow tricks without sacrificing the weirdness Tuesday night at First Avenue.
The Oklahoma acid punks’ first First Ave concert since 2000 — sold out in under an hour — coincided with baseball’s All-Star Game by chance but felt like a worthy musical companion to the big event. The game wrapped up a couple blocks away just as the Lips were unfurling their long strands of rainbow-colored string lights.
To banshee-looking singer Wayne Coyne, simply getting to play a venue from his band’s storied past was itself a big event.
“Thank you for keeping this place alive. We’re so glad we got to play here again,” Coyne said, dressed in a coat of silvery tinsel. He also recalled their excitement at hearing themselves on Radio K as they pulled into town for their first show next door at 7th Street Entry (probably around 1990). “One of the first places that let us come play,” Coyne proudly remembered.
Tuesday’s nearly two-hour performance had an old-school Lips aesthetic to it, along with some new energy, which was certainly what the doctor ordered after the band’s last time in town at River’s Edge Festival in 2012. There, their gimmicks — including Coyne’s giant hamster-ball roll over the crowd’s head, the army of costumed dancers and the constant pelting of confetti — felt old and obvious, while their songs seemed secondary.
Yes, we still got the rolling bubble and the confetti cannons Tuesday. The confetti even arrived during the second song, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” But the circus stunts took the back seat, and the music rolled along more consistently — the songs themselves sometimes coming off as the strangest part of the show.
Tuesday’s set list often belied the rainbow lights hanging from the ceiling, with the music dangling more into dark and downbeat territory. The show opened with the somber, piano-laced oldie “Abandoned Hospital Ship” and went on to include other mellow numbers, including “In the Morning With the Magicians.” Later, the band eschewed the sometimes giddy pace of its best album, 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin,” and played two of that record’s softest tracks, “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” and “Spoonful Weighs a Ton.”
The musical eccentricities peaked with the new epic “Look … The Sun is Rising,” which boasted a fast, throbbing rhythmic pulse. “Try to Explain,” also off last year’s extra-experimental album, “The Terror,” did not fare so well, one of several times the musical momentum dragged — but at least the music was still driving the show.
The encore kickoff “Do You Realize?” competed with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” for the night’s biggest singalong. Then the band provided a taste of their all-star remake of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for the finale, playing a version of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” complete with warped tempo and fiery flourishes. There was no denying the song’s LSD influence in this case, a true flashback to the Flaming Lips of old.