While the Oklahoma City native Flaming Lips bounced through a psychedelic-experiment in rock, the sold-out Detroit Opera House crowd didn’t know what or who to look at. Between the enigmatically quirky antics of frontman Wayne Coyne, a huge screen playing curiously edited video clips and a veritable zoo of animals onstage, the ocular spectacle was overwhelming. It was obvious when one-time folk-rap wunderkind, now heartbreak-hero Beck Hansen took center stage, where the audiences’ eyes belonged.
Beck’s now month-old Sea Change is a collection of sad-sap songs inspired by the loss of his longtime sunshine, and the 32 year-old, like Lou Reed before him, has done much of his growing up in public. The kaleidoscopic piecemeal of obtuse stoner-folk found on 1994’s Mellow Gold grew into the sample-ized junk culture perversion of Odelay. Beck ran from his Odelay commercial success with Mutations, a bluesy-folk-trip tribute to the middle ground of his Geffen back catalog. Beck’s first sea change followed with Midnite Vultures, a self-indulgent satirical shot-in-dance-pop’s eye rooted deeper in Prince than Robert Johnson.
The lone muse strummed quietly Monday night, pulling himself through Mutations’ “Cold Brains,” and “Lazy Flies” before standing to deliver a harmonica-spat jig of “One Foot in the Grave.”
Previously pit-stopping in Canada, Beck commented on the Canadian ability to wear him out, saying “they required a little extra effort, so I’ll have to see what I can do tonight.”
Midway through his fifth song, the black scrim raised (if you blinked, you missed it), and The Flaming Lips (Beck’s backing band) added texture and sonic girth to the country-rock fueled “The Golden Age.” Lips leader Wayne Coyne added high harmonies and earnestly humble fist-pumps, often echoed by Beck’s chuckle or grin. For the remainder of the show, The Flaming Lips played orchestra to Beck’s maestro. With both subtlety and fluidity, the Flaming Lips were led and directed through Beck’s catalog – a hip gyration or a point toward the drummer serving conducting markers.
Often, The Flaming Lips additions took the wonderfully rich Sea Change songs, filling them fuller than their album-arranged counterparts. A second guitar riffed a beautiful addition during an accelerated “Lost Cause,” and Coyne’s scratchy tenor added delectable harmonies, to the often somber, sobering Sea Change ballads.
The Flaming Lips were by no means constrained to note-for-note recreations of Beck’s songs or atmospheres. Coyne spent substantial time during the set rummaging around stage, setting up lights pulsing in time to the music. Coyne bounds into each song – whether it is his own or not, like a mad scientist uncle galloping into the garage to display his latest creation.
Beck revisited Mellow Gold, dusting off the dirty-folk tunes and polishing both “Loser” and “Pay No Mind,” retrofitting the songs into slick, slack-free renditions sans throaty vocals.
At one point Beck sauntered back, motioning toward The Flaming Lips, who subsequently exited the stage. Seating himself at the front stage left, Beck moseyed through a bewildered harmonium-only version of “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.” Given the song’s morose subject material, it was fitting that the solitary minstrel played solo.
With The Flaming Lips behind him, it would seem Beck’s retro-funk revival Midnite Vultures would garner heavy rotation Monday night. However, the synth-vocal driven “Get Real Paid,” was the lone Vultures’ track to make an appearance.
Between songs, Coyne often chided Beck, offering a smug-smirking, “Nice one Beck,” earning a “Thanks,” from the tie-wearing headliner.
It was in front of a huge screen, projecting an interview between Coyne and Pet Sounds mastermind Brian Wilson, that The Flaming Lips took and subsequently stole the stage. Coyne, the light-hearted headmaster of a twisted school, sought constantly to steal the show – an amalgamation of psychedelic arrangements, lushly backgrounds and Coyne’s sometimes fragile crackling croon. With herds of bunny rabbits and bears holding ultra-bright flashlights to the audiences’ eyes, The Flaming Lips launched into The Soft Bulletin’s “Race For the Prize,” following it with the beautiful “Fight Test” from this year’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
During the curiously raucous set, Coyne routinely jumped in the air, popping one of the over-inflated balloons floating overhead with his guitar.
The giant screen distracted from Coyne’s frenetic song and dance routine. During “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” an edited scene from a Japanese movie in which an all girls classroom erupts in uzi-induced violence, culminating with a mass of twisted bodies behind Coyne’s song.
From the “Teletubbies” to “Time Bandits,” The Flaming Lips’ set was both exhibitionist and experimental..
After a first encore featuring Odelay’s “Devil’s Haircut,” Beck et al returned to the stage for a final song.
“We’re going to end on a mellow note,” said Beck as he picked and plunked, leading the Lips into the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.” Beck elected to begin his final song, like he began his set, alone.
Much like Beck’s set it wasn’t until The Flaming Lips fleshed out the 1967 classic, joining in one by one, that everything fell into place.