The Flaming Lips, Royal Albert Hall, London: Saturday April 22
The weirdest show on earth rolls into town. And this time it’s war!
Woah! Watch out! Tonight, singer Wayne Coyne kicks off proceedings by surfing the crowd in a gigantic plastic bubble. He then performs surrounded on one side by a bunch of dancing Santa Clauses, and on the other by a group of strutting Scientologist aliens. Later on (we kid you not), one of the aliens will propose, successfully, to one of the Santas. And, most distractingly, there are streamers and massive balloons everywhere. All this takes place in a stunning, stately venue much more used to classical music concertos than mind-bending, cosmic American rock.
Ah, it’s lovely to have The Flaming Lips back. But while the visual spectacle is as awesome as always, it’s clear that Coldplay, Beck and Jack White’s favourite band want to make some serious points tonight, however candy-coated they may be. In the time that has elapsed since the release of their last album (2002’s ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’) their native USA re-elected George W Bush, invaded Iraq and generally pissed off anyone with half a brain. And while frontman Wayne Coyne is in his usual affable, chatty mood, he also wants to make it clear that the whole damn mess is something the Lips are not happy about at all. The result feels like being at one big psychedelic protest party.
The material tonight from new album ‘At War With The Mystics’ fits the prevailing mood. Coyne launches into his best Prince falsetto on ‘Free Radicals’, rather funkily pointing the finger at suicide bombers, questioning why they go to such lengths (“You think you’re so radical, in fact you’re fanatical”), while ‘The W.A.N.D’ is a riff-heavy, uplifting call to arms which pushes the idea that positive thinking (and, er, a magic wand) will bring about change. The track is dedicated tonight to a kindred spirit in the crowd, Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys. And, during current single ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, Coyne turns things on their head completely, asking us liberals “If you could blow up the world with a flick of a switch, would you do it?” – putting us uncomfortably in the positions of those in power that we choose to mock. The fact that it’s allied to one of the most deliriously catchy pop melodies the band have ever conjured gives it the instant feel of yet another slyly subversive Lips classic.
And, there’s still time for the band to play a host of old favourites – the giddy rush of ‘Race For The Prize’, the endearingly silly ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ and a euphoric ‘Do You Realize??’ are received like old pals. The set finishes with a coruscating cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. As if to ram the message home, the screen behind The Flaming Lips relays pics of Bush and his cronies Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. All this reaffirms that, while there are battles left to fight, you can rest assured The Flaming Lips, over 20 years into their astonishingly prolific career, will be there to fight them.