Approaching the ginormous concrete amphitheater that is the Auditorio Nacional (National Auditorium) of Mexico City, I felt like I was going to see the likes of a Soviet orchestra perform instead of the Flaming Lips — until I was greeted by booming electronic music and cigarette smoke at its outdoor entrance. It turns out that The Flaming Lips were concluding the first day of TAG CDMX, a three day interdisciplinary festival that invites innovators from the realms of music, movies, design, culinary arts, and technology to discuss their creative process through various conferences, workshops, and performances. Earlier that evening inside the same stone Auditorio Nacional, director Spike Jonze had given a conference on “breaking the mold” in independent film, Elisabeth Moss alongside the creators of Mad Men held an hour and a half discussion, and Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the Flaming Lips himself, explained how a near death experience led him to become an artist.
After a full day of creative dialogue one would think that the Flaming Lips’ Tuesday night performance would be an epic finale to day one of TAG CDMX. While I didn’t take part in the earlier festivities, I’m going to go ahead and frankly say that it wasn’t. It was kind of boring.
The concert featured all of the delightfully absurd streamers, blow up animals, video projections and rainbow lights that the band is known to include in their shows. Coyne even sang “Vein of Stars” from within the confines of a giant plastic bubble on top of the audience’s hands. How could a Flaming Lips performance possibly be boring? I’m sure the people in the first few rows would disagree with me—but that’s the thing. The euphoria of their music couldn’t quite reach even the first balcony level of the multi floor auditorium. I could see it in my fellow balcony-sistren-and-brethren’s eyes, straining to feel and compress the rapture of experiencing the songs they know and love into that very moment where it’s happening before them live, but the sound just could not overtake. Even amongst a giant dancing blow-up sun and caterpillar, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt.1” failed to fully penetrate my senses.
It took until the thunderous electric guitars of their third-to-last song, “The W.A.N.D”, to fill the auditorium with the energy the Flaming Lips would usually carry throughout the entirety of their set. Another group of inflatable creatures joined the band on stage, this time two suited frogs and a giant Santa Claus, while digitalized naked girls danced between rainbow traces. The power of the song had captivated us from the balcony and beyond; finally I felt like more than just a spectator of a Flaming Lips spectacle.
Before closing the show with an overly forced encore of “Do you realize??“ (the Mexican crowd cheering during its lyrical reflections of death) , the band performed my favorite song of the night, “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” off their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. Everything about this song was heightened—from the bossa nova 3:2 electronic drum pattern, to the lyrics.
“Forcing it off with their hands, the trap door came undone”— these words, while perhaps some of the only lyrics I could heard clearly throughout the night, resounded with me in that they brilliantly sum up what it is the Flaming Lips do with their music and live performance. They open a trap door of endless possibilities, and in the enormous, bustling, overcast environment of Mexico City, I couldn’t think of a more inspirational and fitting call for creativity here. Next time, maybe try not to see them in the Auditorio Nacional. While it might be a great place for conferences, it’s not such a great place to see your favorite band, (although we’re all probably still “ooh ooh oooohing” the chorus of “Do you realize”).