For their show at Brixton Academy on Saturday, The Flaming Lips certainly pulled out all the stops. Geoff Cowart headed down to review the suitably eccentric show.
The Flaming Lips have come a long way from the shirtless Oklahoma acid freaks who almost burnt down their local war veterans’ bar with some dubious pyrotechnics.
The best signpost of the Lips’ progress over 36 years of troublemaking is their seminal 1999 album, The Soft Bulletin. It served as the crucial tipping point between the rough-hewn rock of their early days and the beginning of their forays into the slicker psychedelic art rock of the Yoshimi vein.
Twenty years later, the Lips returned to Brixton’s O2 Academy on Saturday night to revisit the album that broke them out of critical obscurity. And for that, you can partly thank the Warner Brothers rep who attended the near-disastrous gig in Oklahoma. It led to the band signing a four-album deal with the label, along with a $175,000 advance.
Luckily for The Flaming Lips the label now lets them splash the cash on stage props. The Brixton gig marked the end of a three-night UK run, and frontman Wayne Coyne’s voice sounded a bit road weary. But their miles did nothing to dent the band’s penchant for props, which included a giant disco-ball, streamer guns, metallic confetti, hundreds of giant balloons, smoke machines, illuminating gong, and an inflatable rainbow and robot. Who else could convincingly fire streamers into the crowd while singing about the power of love and the beauty of insects than Coyne?
While masterfully re-presented, The Soft Bulletin is a bit of an unlikely candidate for the full-album nostalgia trip. It’s full of moody interludes and is almost virtuously minimal. The most crowded things get is the double drumming attack of Matt Duckworth Kirksey and Nick Ley on ‘Race for the Prize’, while Steven Drozd stepped away from his keyboards to stoke up some snazzy guitar licks for ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’.
While these songs were essentially the awakening of the band’s transition to the conceptual art-rock album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots three years later, The Soft Bulletin was the gateway drug that helped them open the doors of their mind to fish out the most joyful, rainbow-striped messages of universal harmony. And it’s a joyous event to witness. “Scream your heads off,” Coyne implored the crowd. “Come on, come on.”
Even if those revelations came tinted with the album’s undercurrent of sadness and melancholy, there is no one better to deliver the good news of being alive than these Lips.
‘There Should Be Unicorns’
‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1’
‘Do You Realize??’
Photo credit: Rebecca Hughes