Music contributor Michael Holland reviews Wednesday night’s Flaming Lips gig at the Academy.
Seasoned Flaming Lips fan that I am; I was anticipating a comfortable couple of hours, listening to music I’m very much familiar with, performed by a band I’ve seen many times before. However, I was quickly disarmed by the ragged passion and bright humour of the set.
This cracked group of rock-pop synth pyschonauts don’t do slick professionalism: songs collapse and restart, the stage overfills with people and props, the band is frequently obscured by explosions of light and streamers. Wayne Coyne rambles on between songs apropos of not much at all – tonight’s musings include sunsets in Tesco car-parks, shopping for plastic boots, and the lack of good burgers in London. At this point I should add that the look Wayne has opted for tonight resembles a flayed and skinless wrestler in a matching tinsel loincloth and coat.
The remaining long-standing members of the band, Stephen Drozd, and Michael Ivins, are augmented by more recent members Derek Brown and Jake Ingalls on guitars and drums, sundry giant aliens – some wearing tinsel gowns, some not – a sun, David Bowie’s Starman, dancing moth/caterpillar things, silver balloons, high powered torches, and a vine-like lighting set-up suspended from the ceiling. The Lips’ travelling circus has always contained an amount of ostentatious frippery; but, crucially, it serves to bring chaotic joy to their performance, rather than a masking of bare patches or a distraction from a lack of decent material.
The extravagance of light, noise, and large inflatable creatures takes nothing away from their often beautiful songs. ‘Race for the Prize’ is a triumphant piece of music, all crashing breaks, soaring peaks and lulling troughs. The screaming guitar riff and loping rhythm of ‘The Abandoned Hospital Ship’ shakes the venue. The heart-breaking but celebratory ‘Do You Realise?’ is rendered as captivatingly as ever. Played live, ‘A Spoonful Weighs a Ton’ perhaps encapsulates the band best; they deploy its well-worn quiet/loud rock dynamic with such verve, volume and bone juddering bass wobble that its message of love and perseverance is flash-burnt on the mind.
A vanquishing of cynicism, a celebration of dogged optimism, a hymn to mad ambitions, a stoic but cheerful acceptance of certain doom; Flaming Lips gigs are all of these things and more. They throw in some stunning music too.
You can can read more of Michael on music at his Ears for Eyes blog.