by Elliot Davies
Nottingham lacks a mid-size music venue. For a band like The Flaming Lips, this presents a problem. Their dedicated cult fanbase makes them too big for most of the city’s venues, but apparently not big enough for the arena.
This show was meant to take place at the Capital FM Arena, but it was moved to Rock City. As a result, we get a soundsystem and a light show designed for a significantly bigger stage crammed into a comparatively cozy room.
Is it overwhelming? Absolutely. Retina searing lights and ear-bleeding volumes threaten to obliterate the senses. After a wet, miserable and dispiriting week, this is exactly what I need.
At times it’s almost too much to bear. Their cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds lives up to its implied psychedelic backronym. Its surging, churning chorus of incredible sonic intensity threatens to vaporise those stood at the front. Earlier, the speakers were audibly straining under the immense weight of The W.A.N.D. Stare into the strobes and you might collapse.
The newest songs, too, were crazily intense. Last year’s The Terror was their bleakest album yet. Live, the songs are fleshed out from their desolate recorded form, taking on new life and new volume to become hypnotic prog nightmare soundscapes. The strobes pulse in time to the propulsive drums of Look… The Sun is Rising, as frontman Wayne Coyne comforts a baby like it’s humanity’s one remaining hope. It feels as though the cascading LED fibre optics are achieving synchronicity with your very disorientated brain waves. This is psychedelic music in the purest sense of the word: a mind, devoid of hope, manifest for all to see, hear and feel.
It’s moving, but not at all uplifting. Shows immediately following the release of The Terror were reportedly genuinely upsetting. With divorce, relapse, public scorn and horrible relationship breakdowns, the past few years can’t have been easy for The Flaming Lips. The pressure took its toll, and was reflected in some uncharacteristically forlorn performances.
Yet whilst it would have been unforgettable to have seen the likes of this, the sun really has risen again for The Flaming Lips. As if to prove that the will always negates defeat, their latest tour all but abandons The Terror. In place of the sorrow is a renewed determination to ensure that all will have the best night of their lives. Gone are the dark explorations of pain, fear and death. The lesson tonight is that the world is a scary place, but life can be wonderful if we’re all nice to each other.
On this comparatively smaller stage, there isn’t room for the usual props, costumes, and other trimmings. The band, too, are all-but obscured behind a curtain of LED fibre optics. Stripped of all spectacle, this is something I never thought I’d ever see: A straight-ahead Flaming Lips rock show, in which the songs are allowed to speak for themselves. We are treated to a career spanning setlist that acts as a reminder that The Flaming Lips have written some of the most beautiful rock epics of the past four decades.
Race For The Prize, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, A Spoonful Weighs A Ton and, of course, the immortal Do You Realize?? – these are anthems of love, hope, wonder and optimism in the face of potentially overpowering odds.
Yet the sadness is evidently still there. Whilst introducing Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, Wayne Coyne’s voice nearly breaks up as he extols the life-affirming beauty of simply “feeling good”. Then comes Waitin’ For A Superman, one of the saddest songs ever written as far as I’m concerned. Tonight it’s dedicated to a long-time fan, who has apparently attended every single show since she was 13. It’s sung on what sounds like the verge of tears, and afterwards Wayne jumps into the crowd for a much-needed hug from a faithful friend.
The sadness runs deep, but whereas this time last year The Flaming Lips appeared to invite their crowds to wallow, now they’re urging us to fight. Don’t let the sorrow – The Terror – get the better of you. Life’s too short, and love’s too fleeting. Be excellent to each other.
Is it overwhelming? Absolutely. I’d go as far as to say that it’s devastating.