Flaming Lips, Beck rock Chicago to its very foundations

By Mario Diaz-Perez

On Friday, October 18, the Chicago Theatre was awakened by the sounds of Flaming Lips and Beck. It was a special show because the Flaming Lips not only opened for Beck, but also served as his backup band. Beck came out with an acoustic guitar and played a few songs from his somber break up album, Sea Change. The Flaming Lips then played almost the rest of the show with him. Although the Flaming Lips’ melodic and synth-friendly style of playing was a great compliment to both Beck’s old and new songs, it would have been nice to hear more of the Flaming Lips’ stuff, which was given short-shrift in consideration of their double-set night.

The Flaming Lips’ new album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, is a bright and exuberant soundscape, which explores fundamental themes like love, trust, and hope. There are, however, also some songs about evil robots and a girl named Yoshimi. Although there is a thematic current running through the album, it isn’t a concept album. Each song has its own presence and deals with such universal ideas that listeners never feel overwhelmed by the crazy ideas of music for fighting robots.

It is astonishing at times just how well the rhythm sections mesh with the melody. Machine noises and screams bubble up to the surface periodically, giving the album a futuristic sound. Although there is a certain brightness to the album and it is very much pop-based, there also exists a sense of longing and pain behind it all. The Flaming Lips have been making music for a while and do a great job of integrating these different ideas. Beck’s latest endeavor is less a blend of different ideas than it is a wallowing in the pathos of heartbreak. It’s a deeply personal album with stripped-down acoustic instrumentation and droning melodies. Beck’s unique vocal style is definitely not lost on this album. He continues the trend of slipping in impressions rather than literal expressions.

In the last few years, Beck has alternated between upbeat albums and introspective ones: from Odelay to Mutations and from Midnight Vultures to Sea Change. In this way he has displayed his range and talent for expressing different types of dispositions. Despite what some other writers may have said about Beck in response to Sea Change, he is a very capable musician.

The show itself was a bit lopsided; it served Beck and cut the Flaming Lips short. Most audience members were big fans of the Flaming Lips and were quite disappointed when they played only six songs. Luckily, their appeal found a way of also coming out while they were accompanying Beck. Some of the highlights of the night were their performances of “Do You Realize” and “Vaseline.” Beck and the Flaming Lips then played an encore of “Where It’s At” and a second encore of “Devil’s Haircut.”

The acoustics at the Chicago Theatre are exceptional and both the Flaming Lips and Beck sounded crisp and clean. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to pay a boatload, the experience is limited. Balcony audience members were forced to sit for most of the concert; sitting at a concert is no fun and it makes it harder to lose yourself in what’s being played. At another venue like the Metro or the Vic the show would have been perfect. In fact, just before the Flaming Lips finished their first set, lead singer Wayne Coyne said “Don’t worry we’ll just come back soon and rock the Metro.” So, look out for that.