The Roundhouse is bursting with anticipation before The Flaming Lips come on stage, but not because of the reputation the band has for its live shows, the new album, or the fact they’re celebrating 30 years together. It’s a bit more solemn – frontman Wayne Coyne is ill and rescheduled last night's show. Will he make it tonight, or have to stop early? Will anyone notice his voice sounding more broken than normal?
Then there’s the sad news of the tornados that hit Oklahoma City the night before – the band’s hometown. It’s therefore poignant that Coyne steps out onto the stage first, without any lights or dancing aliens, to spread some love to those affected.
"It made me being sick sound all sorts of petty," he says.
"Music is important. It gets into you and can be your friend when you’re scared. We realise this is a ridiculous event, but this is what you do when you can't do anything else."
So, for Coyne, and his adoring crowd, this becomes "the most important f***ing show ever" - a show in support of his home, that laughs in the face of a chesty cough; and a show that has moments of magic.
It kicks off with a baby and Coyne atop some kind of slain giant electric jellyfish. Mass fuzz fills the room for ‘Look… The Sun Is Rising’, blisteringly loud and beautifully manic. Lights pulse all over the place while strips of blue and red make the stage appear to judder.
Coincidentally marking a more sombre tone tonight, the blasts of ticker tape are black, but still spectacular. They rain down, shot by blinding blips of lights lowering on stage, like an alien invasion. The back wall is lit with psychedelic dancing girls, eyeballs and milky ways. It’s a visual stunner.
‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’ is perfect, epic and showy. The fuzz fades for a gentle intro of ‘Silver Trembling Hands’, building and building until it bursts with frantic percussion. It’s great – if only more ended with this energy as, despite all this greatness, some of the songs and the atmosphere fall a little flat at times.
Tracks from new album 'The Terror' are much mellower, darker. They fail to reach the psych-pop climax of some of the earlier stuff, leaving a few songs without a happy finish.
This darkness even washes over old favourites. ‘Race For The Prize’ is atmospheric, but its slower arrangement is a little too mellow, while new songs ‘You Lust’, ‘The Terror’ and ‘Turning Violent’, a song Coyne even admits is only just starting to sound good live, bubble with tension and excitement without exploding into something incredible. They seem to sap the energy a little.
'One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21’ brings it back a little, but doesn’t compare to the joy in the room for a cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ – perfect timing after some Coyne-isms about how f***ing amazing we are: "F*** people that don’t spread happiness", and how this is, once again, the "most important show you’ll ever see".
It can almost be forgiven for the ‘Do You Realize??’ love-in; the crowd united in singing as Coyne suffers a coughing fit. It’s lovely, but it doesn’t quite make up for the euphoria that’s missing tonight.
Words: Gemma Hampson
Photos: Matt Wash
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