Walking into The Palace, one was immediately struck by the incredibly positive vibe and palpable sense of anticipation emanating from the crowd this evening. Looking around, one could spot both die hard fans of The Flaming Lips, a great deal that were curious about this band’s fierce reputation as a live act, and what can only be described, in the best way possible, as general freaks and weirdos. This scribe’s favourite kind of people, in other words.
Tonight’s proceedings kicked off with Perth band Pond. They were a decent fit musically with the headline act this evening. The Flaming Lips are obviously fans, judging by various members watching them side of stage approvingly. The band specialise in psychedelic-influenced stoner rock-lots of fuzzed out guitars, joyous noise and some very impressive Afros on various band members.
While incredibly derivative of what has inspired them, Pond went over well with the crowd. Notable was their musical dismemberment of the classic 1960’s pop classic “Tears Of A Clown”, but in a good way. The music tended to blend and blur into itself from song to song. Also, unfortunately the sound mix favoured the band over the singer who, quite frankly, came off as, well, a bit of a wanker. Pond worked well in context this evening, but one wonders how their shambolic style would stand them on their own.
On to the main act of this evening: The Flaming Lips. Where to start? This is one of the more challenging reviews this scribe has written. There is a quote, usually attributed to Elvis Costello, which says trying to talk about music is like dancing about architecture. In other words, it can’t be done. How does one get across, via a review, the physical, visceral and emotional impact that The Flaming Lips have upon their audience?
Before the band kicked off their set, Flaming Lips main man/visionary/seer of visions Mr Wayne Coyne had a short chat with the audience, warning them about the use of strobe lights and various effects during the show. This was a wonderful gesture and showed how down to earth, unpretentious and gracious Wayne was with his audience who, in turn this evening, seemed to totally adore him and the band.
Kicking off proper with a musical intro from the band, Wayne was then encased in a plastic bubble, which was then launched at the crowd. The reaction from the close to full house was one of sheer ecstasy as Wayne was gleefully tossed around the dancefloor area before being guided back to stage. When a show kicks off like this, one gets the feeling they are in for something special.
Opening proper with “She Don’t Use Jelly”, their breakthrough hit from 1993, The Flaming Lips proceeded to absolutely blast the audience with basically everything but the kitchen sink. Confetti, via canons and massive balloons, reigned down on the crowd as the band absolutely ripped into what could be best described as a psychedelic wall of noise. Leading the crowd in a sing-along, Coyne gleefully relished his role as main man and ringleader this evening.
In a hell of a musical one-two punch, this was followed by “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, which sent the crowd possibly even more mental than they already were. The incredibly positive vibe in the room this evening was utterly inspiring, as were virtually every person in the venue wearing utterly beaming smiles. Even the security guards couldn’t keep up their jaded, ‘too cool for school’ vibe for the entire evening.
The Flaming Lips are very much a band that has moved to their beat of their own drum. Who can forget some their rather unique experiments with music, such as 1997’s Zaireeka, which involved the listener playing four CDs on four separate players at the same time. Another brave and compelling move musically of the band was their stunning take on the entire Dark Side Of The Moon album by Pink Floyd, featuring guest spots from the like of Peaches and Henry Rollins. More recently, the band recorded a twenty-four hour track and released it on a limited edition USB enclosed in a real human skull. To say this band does things their own way is an understatement.
Tonight, the best way to describe what transpired was to say it was truly like one big party. This was one of those live music experiences where all five senses of the listener and viewer are totally engaged and taken somewhere very challenging and rewarding.
Musically, the band creates a truly astounding psychedelic wall of sound vibe and attitude to them. This is a band that has played together for a number of years and knows the music inside out. At the same time, this is a band that is always pushing forward and refuses to ever be complacent. One gets the feeling that no two Flaming Lips shows are the same. A great example of this was how an iPod was used as a musical instrument at one point.
From a visual perspective, this was quite possibly one of the greatest shows this scribe has had the pleasure of seeing, right up there with Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound Of Thunder tour from the late 1980’s. One has seen some of the visual elements used this evening before, but never combined and used quite like this. The most gratifying aspect is that, while the visual elements of the show are utterly astounding, causing many mouths to open and jaws to drop, it is always linked to the music and never used as a cheap, attention grabbing ploy. A truly incredible moment was where Coyne, wearing giant papier-mâché hands, revealed lasers in the hands, which he then shone and bounced off the mirror balls in the venue, creating a truly haunting and incredible effect.
Also, the band were joined onstage by various friends dressed up in what looked like monk’s robes and Japanese school girl outfits either side of the front of stage, adding to the overall craziness of the live aspect of the band’s performance.
Song highlights included a boisterous and heartfelt version of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” which had the crowd passionately singing along word for word, and a truly insane and jaw dropping version of “What Is The Light?”, with the lyrics appearing on the striking circular screen backdrop, not dissimilar to the screen used by Pink Floyd on the aforementioned Delicate Sounds tour. What is truly inspiring is the way the band takes familiar elements, both visual and musical, and truly take them somewhere you’ve never been before. A sign of a truly great band.
The two encores featured this evening showed the band at their absolute finest. After being hyped up by one of the roadies, the band returned to the stage. They then ripped into the still utterly astounding “Race For The Prize”, off 1999’s landmark album The Soft Parade, with its hauntingly swirling combination of keyboards and guitars. Amid an absolute blitzkrieg of confetti canons and fog, the song really hit its stride with an almost otherworldly quality to it.
The night concluded with Wayne personally thanking the crowd for this evening. He also mentioned something that was quite heartfelt and touching; namely, the way that some people experience sadness in their lives, and that he hoped, that when they saw The Flaming Lips live, that it somehow helped them, even if only to escape from what troubles them for a few hours. Again, that wonderfully humanist and down to earth attitude of Wayne and the band coming through. It truly is something, apart from music that sounds like space folk music for the 21st (and possible 22nd) century that sets apart The Flaming Lips from most of their contemporaries.
To finish off the evening, the band performed what has, over the past few years, become one of their true signature tracks, “Do You Realise?” Adapted by their home state Oklahoma as a state song, this heartfelt and incredibly moving track was rendered in a truly astounding and affecting way this evening. With that, the band bid us farewell.
This was an incredibly special and inspiring evening. The British music press, famous for their hyperbole and being stuck up their own arses, finally got it right when they described The Flaming Lips as ‘one of the bands you have to see before you die’. This was a truly majestic and magnificent performance from one of the finest live acts playing anywhere in the world right now.
– Neil Evans