“This will be the best gig you’ve ever seen dude!”, a weathered, leathery handbag of a man bellows at us, just before we enter the Dome’s suitably bulbous hall to watch the Flaming Lips for the first time. And he’s one of many with that opinion tonight – so great is the mythology around Wayne Coyne and co’s live shows that the music – especially recently – can sometimes take a backseat.
Latest album, ‘The Terror’, lest we forget, is an often wordless sonic journey centred around mortality, futility, the bad times – so you might be forgiven for wondering how that fits in with the giant cuddly toys, confetti, fake blood and glitter that usually bursts from the stage whenever this band’s in town.
The answer is it doesn’t. When such goggle-eyed fun stops they’re nowhere near as interesting to listen to. Playing the new album almost in full for the first 45 minutes doesn’t help. For every visual trick the band pull out the bag (moving lighting rigs, light guns, four confetti bursts, strobes upon strobes), the pared down sound of ‘The Terror’ only warrants them occasionally.
A more suitable tool is the pulsating giant chrome peanut (seriously) on which Coyne perches. It’s an altogether more subtle and fitting way of conveying the music’s new ‘human’ message than any number of 1960s pastiche neon naked dancing girls on the big screen behind can. He clutches a battered doll throughout the set, claiming it to be “all of us’s baby”, and in a cute way this speaks louder than the occasionally clichéd lyrics. “She forgets about the fear when she’s high,” he offers on ‘Silver Trembling Hands’, a sentiment more Austin Powers than Albert Camus.
Still, the show is a fantastic spectacle, with ‘fun’ certainly a buzzword once the murky subsonic gloom of ‘The Terror’ passes. The band seize on The Dome’s place in musical history as the first venue ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ was performed to slip in a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ by way of commemoration. There’s also a less essential version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, but when ‘Race For The Prize’ floats from the speakers in orchestral form, the audience raises its collective arms aloft for the first time. And the obligatory ‘Do You Realize?’ does pretty much what you’d expect for a song now owned by the people, with Coyne croaky and adorable at its centre.
Despite looking and sounding exactly like a Cornelius gig at times, The Flaming Lips – admittedly hampered by Coyne’s man-flu and ‘difficult’ new material – pull it off. Indeed, you really should question yourself if you’re not having fun when Coyne shines a light directly in your face or explains how he and his band are moving into the venue’s roof, to perform every week.
While they’re not the greatest band we’ve ever heard, that guy on the door had a point – they might well be the best we’ve ever seen.
Dome, Wednesday 22nd May 2013
Words by Jake Kennedy
Photos by Jon Southcoasting