A big triple wow for Flying Lotus’ sold-out show at the Neptune Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 18.
One wow for the non-stop assault of electronically mashed up sound, one for the warp-speed 3D visuals by Timeboy and Strangeloop — they came last year, too, but this was my first encounter — and one for the opening trio featuring bass guitarist Thundercat.
Lotus (born Steven Ellison) performed the first half of the show wearing a face mask with eye holes that became phosphorescent goggles when the lights went down. Standing behind a scrim that caught one of three planes of light, he looked like nothing so much as a mad, intergalactic insect, as laser streaks radiated from his head and body.
Lotus drew from material on the new album, “You’re Dead” — including, of course, the title track, complete with those words glowing in letters of light behind him — as well as “Never Catch Me,” “Descent Into Madness” and older tracks “The Killing Joke,” “Shake the Weight,” “Medication Meditation” and the slo-mo disco-clap, “Slow It Down.”
Lotus is John Coltrane’s nephew, but his apparent love affair with outer space, weirdness, science fiction and apocalyptic cosmology makes him more spiritually akin to Sun Ra, as does his mix of the ominously dark and the “tee-hee” playful. Arthur C. Clarke meets Steve Urkel.
Lotus is known for a species of trancey, oozing psychedelia associated with Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces (they have collaborated), but he draws from a sound palette that is considerably broader. The music Tuesday moved through martial bass throbs, industrial kerrangs, clanking chimes, layered world percussion, stop’n’start syncopations, machine-gun raps, soaring whole-tone melodies and baroquely inflated epic-movie scores.
The visuals just kept coming, too, sometimes straight in your face — smoke that curled into galaxies, swirling puddles of mercury, geometric blueprints, elephantine larvae, psychedelic test screens, skyscraper cites careening into oblivion, video-game backhoes, Star Wars ships slowly docking, squiggling chromosomes, eerie ganglia and a cartoon giant patrolling the hills.
The only thing permanent in such a world is change — and quick change, at that — an appropriate condition for a performer whose stage name suggests not only a floating, bird’s eye view but Buddhist detachment from the maya of this world. Yet what a feast for the ears and eyes those illusions are!
As the show drew to a close, Lotus did not seem to want to leave, emerging from behind the scrim to shake hands, chat and joke with the crowd. He appeared genuinely appreciative of the warm reception he was offered.
Lotus has collaborated with Thundercat (Stephen Bruner), notably on “Descent into Madness,” so it was a treat to hear the bassist open the show. His husky falsetto comes out of soul music but his leaping intervals and occasionally atonal, halting melodies Tuesday owed more to free jazz, as did the multi-directional energy drumming of Justin Brown.
Thundercat also skittered around the bass strings with considerably alacrity and invention. He would be an excellent addition to a jazz festival.