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REVIEW

A Sensory Wonderland with The Flaming Lips

12 March 2023
  • Written by
    Hillary Gordon
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher
Wayne Coyne, lead singer for the Flaming Lips, on stage
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It was one of those Santa Barbara nights. Everyone was there. The crazy clothes, makeup and costumes were out on display. Before the band hit the stage at The Arlington Theatre, the neighborhood bars were packed with pre-show-goers. When The Flaming Lips come to Santa Barbara, it’s a show you don’t miss. Even if it’s midweek. Even if it’s raining. 

The questions were circulating through a packed house. Will there be strobe lights? Will there be lasers? Will there be confetti? Will The Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne be singing from the giant inflatable bubble the band is known for? The answer to all of those questions was yes. There were multiple inflatables in fact- a big ole’ rainbow, a towering robot giant and shiny balloon letters spelling F*** Yeah Santa Barbra!  There was also an animatronic bird, giant-peanut shaped structures shooting light beams from either side of the stage, and a pair of drummers donning matching fluorescent yellow wigs. A Flaming Lips show is a lot of things, but boring is never one of them. 

If you’ve seen The Lips live, you know. If you have not, it’s difficult to accurately describe the sensory spectacle that is their show. People in the crowd were using phrases like “visual overload,” “a life affirming event,” and, of course, there was much drug chatter. Because being at a Flaming Lips show, whether at The Arlington Theatre or a big field at some festival, for better or worse, feels a bit like being on drugs.  

The band, originally from Oklahoma City, played for almost two hours. Coyne came onto stage dressed in a Wonder Woman nightgown, often running his hands through his signature Beetlejuice-esque hair. He made sure to mention how happy he and the Lips were to be on the stage in Santa Barbara and spent much of the show encouraging crowd participation, noting that during Covid, while we all still had music, what we didn’t have was a bunch of people gathered in a room to celebrate and listen to it together. “Let’s make this the happiest, most joyous night possible,” Coyne said. Throughout the show had the crowd clapping, karate-chopping, singing, shining their cell phone lights, and at one point, barking like dogs. The band’s lyrics, ranging from absurd (I know a girl who reminds me of Cher/ She’s always changin’ the color of her hair/ But she don’t use nothin’ you’d buy at a store/ she likes her hair real orange/ she uses tangerines) to the poignant (Do you realize that everyone you love, someday will die?) were all displayed, in perfect synchronicity with Coyne’s singing on a very large, very colorful and always- morphing screen behind the band. 

About halfway through the show Coyne changed out of his nightgown into a more somber black get up- a la Gerard Way during My Chemical Romance’s  The Black Parade period. The band played an abnormal amount of sad songs, which Coyne commented on, but still urged the crowd to sing along and participate, to help counter the more doleful lyrics. But, while some tunes leaned a touch melancholy, the show as a whole was wrapped in a very happy, wacky, colorful, fun package. They played some lesser-known songs but peppered in their big hits methodically, and as a bonus played a cover of Madonna’s “Borderline. Any time there was a lull in the show, Coyne asked the crowd to clap and shout. “It’s just more fun when you participate,” he said more than once. 

By the time the show ended, there was confetti littering the Arlington floor, and streamers strewn across the ceiling beams. The rainbows, robots and giant bubbles were all being packed away, deflated. The crowd, on the other hand, was anything but. People left the Arlington talking about what they had just seen and heard. And if you happen to run into any of them, they will probably ask you if you were there. And if you weren’t, they will try to describe what a special event a Flaming Lips show really is, but will know that you have to see it for yourself to truly understand.  And if you were there, well, you understand that when the Flaming Lips come to Santa Barbara, it’s a spectacle you don’t want to miss.

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The opinions presented here are those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent The Arlington Theatre management.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street