Concert Review: Flying Lotus dropkicks the collective heads off Express Live crowd

Justin McIntosh
Flying Lotus at Express Live on Monday, Sept. 2

Upon entering Express Live for the Flying Lotus show Monday, concertgoers were handed a set of red 3D glasses. They might as well have received a red pill.

The nearly 90-minute, career-spanning set that followed was every bit as mind-altering and perception-shattering as entering the “Matrix.” Indeed, it was the rare indoor concert that felt grand and cosmic and transformative.

It was, in a word, a trip. Like an animated horror movie turned real-time concert film but cranked to 11 and drenched in hallucinogens.

In reality, what unfolded was a 3D-generated audio-visual journey that traced Flying Lotus’ own evolution from beat-tape producer to glitched-out astral-jazz impresario to horror- and anime-inspired gross-out filmmaker.

Every aspect of Steven Ellison’s multi-disciplinary skillset was on full, terrifying display — a Voltron-esque arsenal that smashed through the gates of reality, peeled back the curtain of illusion and opened the doors of perception.

Sober or not, you were pulled in — it was impossible not to be — and rendered slack-jawed by the full, overwhelming scale of his artistic vision.

The journey was anything but linear, but let’s start at the beginning anyway — before this grand vision was unveiled, when there was simply a box under a blanket on a stage, the night impregnated with David Lynch-ian tension.

Flanked by the two opening acts — Salami Rose Joe Louis and Brandon Coleman Spacetalker — the covered box loomed, ominous and foreboding.

The focus, ostensibly, was meant to be directed toward Salami Rose’s dreamy and skittish bedroom pop filtered through Billie Holiday-inspired vocals and Spacetalker’s expansive neon-electro-jazz that stretched and snapped.

But the covered box distracted. And anyway, the openers served more as palate cleansers and spirit-quest initiators than opening acts.

So as quickly as they appeared and entertained, they disappeared. And then silence and darkness descended once again.

And then the blanket was removed. The veil was torn. And the screen in the background roared to life with screaming children dressed in what looked like outcast outfits from a “Where the Wild Things Are” musical.

Against a discordant backdrop of ghostly echoes and out-of-tune piano twinkles, a familiar voice told a familiar tale: of suburban malaise left to rot and fester while true ugliness lurks violently in the shadows.

The narrator, of course, was David Lynch. Who else would it be? Who else could it be?

As the musical anxiety ratcheted up, Lynch’s voice intoned with increasing alarm: “Fire is coming, fire is coming!” And with each octave rise of concern, the elasticity holding reality together stretched further and further until, finally, the “Twin Peaks” filmmaker’s face appeared within the maw of a lion.

And it was here that a thought floated to the surface: How do I review this?

And then just as quickly, the thought dissipated and a new one surfaced: This might be the coolest show I’ve ever experienced.

Like a metaphysical nuclear bomb, this seed seemed to detonate within me and then expand to everyone around me.

Nearby I heard someone say, “This is literally like a DMT trip!” And then someone else yelled, “What are the chances we get dinosaurs?!” Others still were met with an impossible quandary: to dance or simply close their eyes and get lost in thought.

At times the transformations were poignant. A Mac Miller tribute morphed into a Thundercat shoutout — the crowd rapping and singing along with the frequent FlyLo collaborators.

Elsewhere, images or ideas would appear and then just as quickly turn into something else entirely. Snippets of songs caromed around the cavernous venue like space debris seemingly lost in orbit before snapping into focus and coalescing with other pieces into new shapes and forms.

Three-dimensional cityscapes turned inward and expanded eternally, like an M.C. Escher painting come to marvelously trippy life.

The nose of a large galactic starship cruiser entered the darkness like the intro to a “Star Wars” movie and then hovered over the crowd, eliciting oohs and aahs before morphing into a crystal, turning 180 degrees, and zooming away — its stardust fumes dissolving in hyper-speed streaks of light.

None of this was even close to the highlight of the night, though.

That came when a giant cartoon Rick-Ross lookalike took over the entirety of the screen and then peered out at the crowd before the acid-fires of hell melted the character’s flesh, leaving behind a chuckling, swaggering skeleton.

Emerging from behind central control, FlyLo appeared onstage as his rap alter-ego, Captain Murphy.

The place, once more, erupted.

The fire, it was now clear, had arrived.

And we, having been baptized by fire and space dust, had been consumed and transformed.