Wayne Coyne did not zip himself into a giant hamster ball, nor did he wear his enormous, laser-firing hands. Confetti did not shower the 15,000-plus Flaming Lips fans at Austin's Auditorium Shores, and Coyne's megaphone and boxing nun puppet were safely stowed away.
Instead, Coyne and his bandmates -- multi-instrumentalists Steven Drozd and Derek Brown, bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Kliph Scurlock -- took the South By Southwest crowd on a dark ride as they debuted their soon-to-be released album, "The Terror."
The Lips played "The Terror" in its entirety, a pulsing, unsettled but often hauntingly beautiful collection. Songs such as "You Lust," "The Terror" and "You Are Alone" showed Coyne in reflective, self-lacerating mode. And the theatrics were just as ominous.
During most of the set, Coyne stood center-stage, draped in white, illuminated tubes and cradling a baby doll, often kissing its head. Compared to his usual demeanor, Coyne often seemed just on the verge of curling into a fetal position. When guest vocalist Sarah Barthel of the electronic duo Phantogram appeared on stage during "You Lust," Coyne said she would only sing if he pulled her hair during the song. He did.
While the "Terror" set was uncharacteristically somber, the full-album performance seemed necessary for Coyne, something that had to be pushed into the open air. There was anger, ugliness, even a little thumb-sucking, but it all looked and sounded honest.
True to form, though, Coyne brightened things in the end. After the conclusion of "The Terror," The Flaming Lips performed several songs from "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." At the close, Coyne joked about bring out Justin Timberlake to sing on "Do You Realize??" Dragging a ski-masked figure in a dark suit to the stage, Coyne pulled off the mask to reveal My Morning Jacket's Jim James, who had performed a superb solo set after an energetic show opener by Divine Fits. James' high tenor complimented the song well, and in the end, James gave Coyne a big bear hug. Based on Coyne's harrowingly introspective performance of "The Terror," he looked like he needed one.
-- George Lang