I saw Beck a few months ago at Northwestern University when he was on his solo acoustic tour. During that very intimate show, he surprised the crowd by announcing that The Flaming Lips would be his back-up band when the proper Sea Change tour got underway. Ever since that moment, I have been counting down the days in sweet anticipation. Last Friday (10.18.02), I marked the final "X" on the calendar, tried to subdue my wild, teenage, TRL-esque excitement from getting out of hand and readied myself for Beck and The Flaming Lips at the beautiful Chicago Theatre.
The Flaming Lips were first to take the stage. As they walked out, I did a double take and checked with my friend Dave to make sure he didn't slip some sort of psychedelic drug into my drink. Why you ask? Well, because The Flaming Lips' stage set-up was perhaps the most unique I've ever seen. Let me break it down for you. A giant video screen served as the backdrop. A number of enormous disco balls separated the elevated drum kit from the front of the stage. A smoke machine was set to ludicrous speed, and at least 15 dancing people holding flashlights and dressed in huge bunny rabbit suits lined each side of the stage while giant balloons bounced around the crowd. It was a total trip.
The Lips transformed the Chicago Theatre into some other planet and we were all lucky enough to be brought along for the ride. "Fight Test," "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1," and even, "She Don't Use Jelly" were performed with out of this world mastery. After expressing his admiration for the venue and telling the crowd that the Lips would "magically re-appear" at some point during Beck's set, Wayne Coyne wrapped up the amazingly strange performance with "Do You Realize?"
After a half-hour or so, the one and only Beck Hanson took to the stage with only an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and a black turtleneck sweater straight out of 1987. He got right down to business with "Cold Brains," a harmonica jam and "Guess I'm Doin' Fine." Beck sat alone on the stage in front of a black curtain as he then plucked the opening notes of "Golden Age." At the first chorus, Wayne's promise came true. The Flaming Lips entered the fray in dramatic fashion with a drum blast, as what had appeared to be a plain black backdrop, became a transparent sheet that revealed the band. That's when the fun really began.
The stage lights dimmed and when they were turned back on, Beck was wearing a hot pink button down shirt, and stood before the mic with his dancing shoes on. The Flaming Lips and Beck worked flawlessly together and, as the down-tempo Sea Change songs chilled out the crowd, Wayne became the band's cheerleader. He stood on a stool with raised fists on multiple occasions to energize the audience. "Tropicala," "The New Pollution," "Lost Cause," and "Lonesome Tears" were all impressive. Beck then decided to "try something new" and they broke into "Get Real Paid" from Midnight Vultures. It was funky as shit and Beck even busted "the robot." A huge highlight of the evening was "Loser." There was an enormous reaction from the crowd as soon as Beck rocked the nasty slide lick intro.
The band left the stage to a huge ovation, only to return for was to be the first of two encores. They rocked a personal fave from Sea Chage, "Paper Tiger" and? are you ready for this ? "Where It's At!" It was awesome. During the bridge, Wayne and Beck danced down the isles, ran to the merch booth, and danced back to the stage with each other's tour T-shirts on to finish the song. The lights went out and the stage was cleared. But that wasn't it folks.
After 5 minutes of constant cheering, Beck re-appeared from stage left in a glow-in-the-dark jumpsuit and, with The Lips in tow, performed "Devil's Haircut" to an awe-inspired crowd. The entire evening was something special and everyone in the place knew it. It was the perfect start to a huge musical weekend in Chicago.