Halfway through his set last Thursday, Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne declared it was “the greatest Halloween party San Francisco had ever seen!” I wouldn’t argue with him, but then again, that “Halloween Bloodbath” at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was the first and only Halloween show I’d ever been to in the Bay Area. Featuring openers White Denim and touring companions Tame Impala, the show was certainly not lacking in seasonal theatrics.
Musically, however, parts of the night were less than impressive.
I arrived at the show in a Signs-style tinfoil hat with my extraterrestrial companion just in time to hear the final songs of White Denim’s set. I didn’t know enough of this up-and-coming Austin-based band’s music to pinpoint exactly what those songs were, but their hard-rocking psychedelic sound left me hoping to change that. On a side note, the band’s costumes were a little confusing; it was hard to tell if they were going for a hair metal/glam rock look or if they had just dressed up as a girl band. I guess there isn’t much of a difference.
The members of Tame Impala, on the other hand, were undeniably and unabashedly dressed up as the Spice Girls. They walked onstage to a devilish remix of “Wannabe,” which gave the audience a good laugh before the Aussie five-piece launched into their set.
Tame Impala exploded onto the music scene last year with their second album Lonerism. There’s no doubt that they’re keeping psychedelic rock alive and well, as evidenced by their first song, a spacey and progressive jam. Highlights of their set included a perfect rendition of everyone’s favorite song from their first album, “Solitude Is Bliss,” and a wonderfully groovy performance of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” Another high point of the set was the patiently-built and impromptu jam during “Be Above It.” The piece climaxed with a huge swell and then rode the crest of the musical wave until it faded out like an ocean lapping at the audience’s feet.
But the ultimate peak came when they segued seamlessly from their hit single “Elephant” into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” only to return to the thumping bass line of the original song without missing a beat. They could’ve easily switched back and forth between those songs for the rest of the set and nobody in the audience would’ve complained.
Tame Impala couldn’t have put on a better performance; it was highly energetic, perfectly danceable, ghoulishly fun, and 100% Halloween-appropriate. The bar was set high for the night’s headliner.
There was a lot of mystery surrounding the exact components of the Flaming Lips’ plans. During the set change, cannons were placed on the corners of the stage at the back of the auditorium. In addition to those, a giant net containing hundreds of red balloons awaited in the far-right corner of the auditorium. I also couldn’t help but notice the utter lack of red-dyed corn syrup thus far for something dubbed a “Bloodbath.”
All my questions were resolved when front man Wayne Coyne finally took the stage. Dressed up as Carrie from the classic horror film of the same name, he climbed up onto a silver bubble pedestal constructed for him in the center of the stage. As the theme from the Halloween movies played, a VMA Miley Cyrus doppelganger then entered, on the shoulders of a grizzly bear, holding a bucket. Wayne greeted her, then closed his eyes and stretched out his arms to receive the bucket of “blood” being dumped over his head, reenacting the most famous scene from Carrie. Simultaneously, confetti flew from the cannons, the balloons were released, and the band launched into “The Wand.” The party had officially started.
Unfortunately, the music did not live up to the theatrics. After the opener, the set consisted entirely of songs from their new album, The Terror, deviating only at end with the obligatory “Do You Realize” from 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Personally, I find The Terror to be overly dark, lacking in structure, and mostly unlistenable. And this is coming from someone who is a big fan of most everything The Flaming Lips have put out over the years. It’s true that The Terror is an experimental record, and I respect the risks that the band took in making it, but when all of the songs have consistently inaccessible structures, it doesn’t translate well to a live performance. As a result, musically, The Flaming Lips turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the night.
Although the music was underwhelming, I found the set to be both spooky and disorienting, which worked for Halloween. Thankfully, the stage antics that Wayne Coyne and his band mates are known for saved the set from being a total downer. Overall, I wouldn’t have been anywhere else this Halloween. Tame Impala stole the show, and in the end, the Halloween Bloodbath did live up to its name.
Article by Ryan Riedmueller