The Flaming Lips
THURSDAY JANUARY 16, 2003
Pandas, aliens, gorillas, giant rabbits and Jetsonesque robots. Enormous spinning glitterballs spewing kaleidoscopic prisms. Silver confetti, fluorescent strobes, glove puppets and vistas of Teletubbies. At the centre of this Fellini-meets-Barbarella-via-Trigger Happy TV weirdness lurks Wayne Coyne, dappered up like a carnival barker on a mission. "People often live their lives looking ahead," opines the fortysomething leader of America's foremost exponents of mind-melting symphonic cyber-pop, "or to the past, when things were better. What happens is people forget how to live right now, for the moment. And who knows? Tonight may be the last show we ever do. I say you've gotta make the fuckin' moment last. Make right now matter."
As statement of intent, the nub of Coyne's philosophy can be traced directly to his father's death during the making of the Lips' 1995 album, Clouds Taste Metallic (the point at which their wilfully freakish psych-rock shifted into an altogether more daring realm of sonic adventure), and shored up by the death-triggering triumph of last year's stunning 10th album and Uncut poll-topper, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
If the latter was the Oklahoma trio's attempt to glean meaning and joy from unfathomable cosmic design, then tonight's live experience is the physical manifestation of defiant struggle, of hope forever sprouting eternal. These days, Lips shows bubble with unmatched communal warmth. This heat—from fans dancing on stage in $500 furry costumes to Coyne leading a throng-a-long of "Happy Birthday" to two random crowd-goers—may not have been what Pete Townshend exactly envisaged when he dreamt up that doomed utopia of band/punter communion, Lifehouse, but its effect is as curiously exhilarating as anything I've seen on stage.
Their music—like the incongruous optical riot—shouldn't really work, but does so to glorious effect: sadly rippling piano effects over stumbling hip hop beats wrapped in sensory-shifting symphonic dubscapes, all strained with that strangely suspenseful Coyne tremble that suggests the answers to the Big Questions are within reach somewhere over the next cloud. The most beautiful, fragile moments ("All We Have Is Now"; "In The Morning Of The Magicians"; "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton") are counterpointed by ebullient crashes through the classic "She Don't Use Jelly", Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" and the megaphone-wielding "Lightning Strikes The Postman", but it's the likes of "Race For The Prize" and the magnificent "Do You Realize??" that truly transfigure. Honourable mentions go to auspicious support, British Sea Power, and Badly Drawn Boy, whose unheralded three-song prelude to the Lips' appearance came with a much-applauded Joe Strummer tribute during "You Were Right". No stealing of thunder from the main act, though. The Flaming Lips, genuinely humbled by the affection they inspire, urge you to love, live and fill thy cup. Somewhere, there's a panda costume with your name on it.