While I consider myself a relatively informed Flying Lotus listener, I had absolutely no idea what to expect out of the L.A. producer’s live show. Currently on his FLAMAGRA tour, FlyLo is promoting an album as dark and ominous as it is groovy and psychedelic, a combination that allows for endless live show possibilities. Needless to say, I was excited. And then, when handed a pair of red 3-D glasses upon entering, a was positively giddy.
I had never heard of the openers, so walking in to the First Ave Mainroom I was immediately drawn to the soulful production of the Bay Area’s own Salami Rose. Live production isn’t easy, or so I’ve heard from people with a grasp of it. Live production with layered vocals, live keys and even a harmonica solo that would make John Popper blush? Apparently easy, at least that’s how Salami Rose made it seem. With beautiful visuals, and effortless mastery, you gotta check her out; her new album Zdenka 2080 just dropped a few days ago.
My least favorite part of shows is when the curtains drop and the house music and lights switch on between acts. The energy of the room just WHOOSH, out the door. Thankfully, Phoenix DJ ‘PBDY’ apparently agrees with me, and kept the crowd involved and dancing between all the sets during the evening. I know next to nothing about electronic music, so I won’t even try to describe what kind of music PBDY played, except to say that it slapped. After Salami Rose’s set, PBDY played a touching mixed media tribute to the late Ras G, a legendary Los Angeles based record producer and DJ who was heavily involved with FlyLo’s record label, Brainfeeder. It was a beautiful moment, and many in the crowd kept shouting “Ras G! Ras G!”, showing that the prolific musician had touched many Minnesotans.
Brandon Coleman Spacetalker, the next artist, is one of those artists that I didn’t know by name but the moment I saw who they played with, I was hooked. Anyone who plays alongside Donald Glover and Kamasi Washington is good in my book. The keyboard/keytarist opened his show with “I’m Brandon Coleman and we’re gonna take you out to space for a little bit, then maybe come back to Earth later on”. It was indeed a promise. Coleman’s trio (a drummer, Coleman on keytar, vocals and keyboard, and a 2nd keytar player who also played trumpet) felt like they belonged halfway between Terrace Martin (one of Kendrick Lamar’s longtime producers) and Flying Lotus. It wasn’t quite jazz, or funk; it was both, encased in a spacey, psychedelic coating. Partway through, Coleman confessed that he grew up as a jazz head (something we all could’ve guessed). But he credited some amazing artists, namely Prince, with introducing him to a funkier world. It was clear that playing at First Avenue was special for him, a pilgrimage of sorts. But not to stray too far from the jazz world, their second to last song was a blistering, modern rendition of the jazz standard ‘Nardis’. I was pleased.
After another roaring intermission provided by PBDY, it was time for the man himself. Flying Lotus’s DJ workstation resembled a spacecraft, old and worn, converging somewhere between fleshy monster and robotic craft. “Horrifyingly beautiful” probably sums it up nicely. The lights dimmed and we were urged by a metallic voice to “Please put on your 3D glasses now”. The screen flashed to life, revealing the not-so-subtly unnerving video for “Fire is Coming”, the fever-dream of a composition narrated by none other than the King of Creepy, David Lynch. At the beat drop, Flying Lotus appeared behind his turntable, strobes flashed and the show began. The 3D visuals on the screen behind him blew me away, as i still remember when 3D tech was new, and everything had to be seen through a blue-red hue. Nothing could’ve prepared me for how seamless and actually three dimensional the images appeared, hovering out over the audience like some Star Wars-esque hologram.
It only took a few songs for FlyLo to take it back to some of his hits off of earlier records like You’re Dead! and Cosmogramma. For someone who isn’t as familiar with his earlier music, the visuals were almost always stylized after some of the album artwork, which was helpful.
One song I didn’t need help identifying was FlyLo’s dark, grimy remix of Soulja Boy’s classic “Crank Dat”. “I made this beat on my iPhone, I love this s**t though”. We all love it, man, how can you not?
The highlight of the show came, in my opinion, when the words “Pay attention: Captain Murphy is going to speak” exploded onto the screen. For those of you who don’t known, Captain Murphy is Flying Lotus’s rap alterego. A fully developed character in his own right, Captain Murphy’s angry, bombastic bars perfectly vocalize the fear and anger rippling under the surface of a lot of Lotus’s beats. Flying Lotus takes the L.A. sound and deconstructs it, deconsecrates it, twists and molds into into some “horrifyingly beautiful” soundscape that is both uncomfortable yet compulsively danceable.