In his head, The Flaming Lips‘ Wayne Coyne is playing on the moon. He got there with his atomic jet-pack, or he hitched a ride with Superman – it’s not important which. What matters is, the funny man with fake blood running down his face still thinks he’s eight years old. There’s a toy rocket in his fist, a comic in his pocket, and the future is calling. Batteries are always included.
That’s The Flaming Lips tonight, in a capsule. A glorious fit of nostalgia for an age that never came. Tonight’s triumphal, confetti-strewn outing in front of the biggest crowd they’ve ever drawn even features the century’s most hackneyed tunes about hope and longing, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and ‘White Christmas’. They play them with total earnestness, and, caught up in the moment, we sing blithely along.
Old standards aside, this is the same production a few hundred lucky people witnessed at closer quarters at Bowlie back in April – the unforgettable projection of the eye op, Leonard Bernstein conducting atom bomb tests, the gong-assisted ‘crashendos’ of ‘Race For The Prize’ and ‘Lightning Strikes The Postman’.
Only tonight, the childlike fun factor is amplified. There’s the animal oven glove who helps Wayne sing ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’, who magically finds a fellow oven glove aloft in the audience. There’s the punching nun puppet whose twisted features are magnified on the big screen for ‘Slow Nerve Action’, and the rivers of fake blood running incongruously down Wayne’s grinning face.
Most endearing of all, though, are Wayne‘s attempts at demystifying The Flaming Lips‘ art: he actually apologises for the sad songs and thanks everyone repeatedly for liking his band. He even drags Michael Ivins and Steve Drozd offstage and back on again after their first song-cum-soundcheck, so the audience can have the benefit of a big rock entrance.
In the hands of a lesser band, all this good-natured capering would amount to a heap of horseshit. But listen to the beat-strewn meditation of ‘The Observer’ and to the huge physical cheer that erupts after every song. And see the way, during the tender yet explosive encore of ‘The Spark That Bled’, a small boy is dragged through the surf by a wild white horse on the screen behind the stage. Try as he might with his compulsive rationalising, his need to justify, Wayne Coyne just can’t lose the magic.