Monday, February 12, 2007

The Flaming Lips, Live

[written for the London Lite in late 2006. God, I love the Flaming Lips]

You could spend a whole review just attempting to list everything grasping for your attention throughout the first song of last night’s Flaming Lips concert: the balloons of various size and hue forever bouncing about the room; the Santa Clauses and dancing girls congregating either side of the stage; frontman Wayne Coyne walking on inside a man-sized hamster-ball, rolling over the crowd’s out-stretched hands before exiting the contraption to sing in a fractured, endearing croak and fire his glitter-gun into his adoring, almost cult-like audience.

The Lips were introduced by a jolly old man in a pantomime mayor’s costume, before launching into their unabashedly secularist hymn ‘Race For The Prize’ (a tale of scientists working themselves to death to find the cure for cancer) and kick-starting this carnival of joyous chaos. Barring some songlist and personnel changes and a bigger budget (a messianic confidence was always theirs), it was pretty much the same show they’ve been playing since 1999’s breakthrough The Soft Bulletin album, lifting the crowd to damp-eyed peaks of ecstasy for two hours before sending them out into the cold night with a warm glow.

What startles is how spontaneous it all still felt, how unpredictable – indeed, all that was predictable was how profoundly moving it was.

For all their hippy-dippy, day-glo lunacy, a darkness stalks the Flaming Lips songbook, underscoring their Sesame Street psychedelia. Death is a constant spectre, stealing loved-ones away too soon with disease or unjust wars, but The Flaming Lips remain optimistic (it was a quality Coyne eulogised in his beguilingly rambling between-song banter).

Their message, it seemed, was that what matters is to taste the marrow of life in the time that remains; simple enough, but resonant. ‘Do You Realise’ was dedicated to a fan who passed away a month before, requested by his friends in the audience; he’d had the song played at his funeral. The song’s theme took on an extra poignancy with the entire audience singing the chorus.

The visual assault intensified for ‘the W.A.N.D.’: a massive video-screen showing a girl dancing naked; air thick with dry ice and glitter; blinding, blinking, brilliant white lights that turned the whole room into a strobe. It was a near-psychedelic experience in of itself, like finding yourself inside that Sony TV ad with all the bouncing coloured balls.

At the centre of it all was Coyne, anchoring the Lips’ grandiose gestures to something very real and human. Giddily celebrating “the beginning of the end of George Bush” and leading all assembled through a gonzoid karaoke take of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, he resembled no-one more than Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life, unblinkingly optimistic in the face of life’s brutal, blind cruelty. And while it’ll take more than balloons, glitter and rock’n’roll to make this a better world, The Flaming Lips’ brilliance lay in making us feel it was all possible, for a couple of hours at least.

(c) Stevie Chick 2006

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