Thursday, 29 May 2014

Review of The Flaming Lips at Brixton Academy, London. May 28, 2014

Make no mistake, this was the greatest gig of all time. Not just a gig - a shock and awe assault on the senses, a rib-rattling kicking by the Flaming Lips, the Dan Flavin Lips and the Flaming Yips.

Forget last year's unlistenable Terror album and that almost unwatchable, fit-inducing oracular spectacular, this was a towering return to form by the best live band of their or any other generation.

That's not a set, Brixton, it's an art installation. Strings of light raining, dripping and Roman Candling above the stage like a psychedelic version of Flavin's flourescent tubes. A vajazzling screen backdrop, blacking our eyes with Pop Art rainbows and horseplaying girls, stripped naked and dancing towards us like Andy Warhol's multi-coloured Marilyns, unleashed from the canvas to seduce us like the titles of a vintage James Bond film, strobe lights picking out the confetti exploding from the stage over the delighted, dazzled crowd.

And there's Wayne, resplendent in a lycra onesie and silver tinsel cloak, leading out a pair of performance artists in giant butterfly costumes, wings two small for their huge bodies in the style of the unnerving Heimlich from Pixar's brilliant Bug's Life movie. A giant David Bowie Starman figure hugging Wayne between the glorious opening minutes of the show - a medley from Yoshimi, She Don't Use Jelly - then enter two space aliens so big they bang their blow-up heads on the stage lights.

Yes, there are two drummers, the finest number of drummers in rock, wearing shoulder-length green wigs, thumping their instruments gleefully, making way only for Steven's peerless pounding on Race For The Prize, that celebration of the humanity of scientists sang delicately by Wayne between bouts of tinsel waving.

The party was pumping when pop's most charismatic frontman vanished then reappeared atop a ten-foot platform made of more video screens. Now he was back in the blue satin suit of last year, looking like a shaggy-haired Seventies David Essex, cradling that weird baby doll, the one that gave us the yips at the Camden Roundhouse last year, and reminding us that he's still the daddy calling the shots - the buzzing car-crash crunch of Terror selections beating us into submission beneath the laser searchlights.

The timeless themes of death, loss and, especially, LOVE run deep through all the face-punching pyschedelia of the Lips. They left the stage for the first time after A Spoonful Weighs a Ton with that beautifully devastating word pulsing on the giant screen and ringing in our ears for what seemed like half an hour.

Then they were back with the song that changed everything, Do You Realize??, the show-closer that sends the grizzled, grinning masses out into the early summer night with a smile, a glow and a feeling that everything just might turn out alright after all.

But not this time. Stop that dash for the Victoria Line right there. Wayne was back on top of his platform of LED light and, yes, those were the first unmistakeable harpsichord notes of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Miley Cyrus sings it like a magnificent wrecking ball on the single version, but nobody does it better than Wayne. Plasticine porters with looking glass ties slam our fingers in the train doors in a singalong chorus that has never sounded more electrifying.

What a glorious climax: the best live band in the world paying homage to the best pop songwriting duo who have ever lived. Yes, it was that kind of night. The greatest gig of all time.