Live Review: The Flaming Lips

4 October 2019 | 12:52 pm | Madison Thomas

"[T]he waves of enthusiastic karate chops that follow are joyous."

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Pasty limbs peek out from shirt sleeves, bubbles of laughter burst, and the pre-gig soundtrack is the chime of clinking beer bottles. Hamer Hall glows its soft orange glow, and glittering rows of lights lean gently over the stage. It’s a warm Thursday night, and The Flaming Lips are in town to perform 1999’s The Soft Bulletin in full. The time ticks towards the 8pm start time, then past it. Lead singer Wayne Coyne looks out at the audience, looks at his watch, then disappears again. Surprisingly, despite the almost mythical reputation of the band’s live shows, the auditorium is nowhere near full. The stalls are busy, though nowhere near enough to, say, support a fully grown man in an inflatable hamster ball, and the dress circle is half empty. On the upside, the lack of bodies in the circle means diehard punters are able to trickle forward for a better view.


The Flaming Lips. Photos by Renee Coster.

Confetti cannons explode and giant, colourful balloons bounce over the crowd as the band opens with Race For The Prize. The visuals are mouth-wateringly Instagrammable, but the sound is teeth-shatteringly tinny. Coyne’s vocals struggle to be heard over the uneven mix, and when they do surface they’re croaky (and not in the usual good way). However, the band do succeed in giving the room a warm vibe, with punters reaching for balloons and tossing confetti with a childlike abandon.

Coyne implores punters, “You gotta do some screamin’… Fuck." But it’s hard to connect with the dreamy, layered material of The Soft Bulletin and provide the encouraged screaming, yelling, and cheering at the same time. There is little space to absorb the gentler moments of songs like Waitin’ For A Superman – the delicate magnificence of the song seems to have no room to breathe. Indeed, at times the grand spectacle of the production gets between the audience and the songs. The crowd participation works better during Buggin’, with the entire theatre transforming into a swarm of musical mosquitos.

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The show really begins at the end, when Coyne delivers a poignant tribute to recently passed musician Daniel Johnston. “There are lots and lots of lonely people in the world... The people who need our help most will be the last ones to ask for it... If someone needs help, don’t hesitate,” he says, before performing Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End. This is tonight’s purest, most raw moment. Performed without psychedelic bells and whistles, the song is heartbreaking and beautiful, and at its conclusion Coyne smiles at the ground and puts his hand over his heart. 

After being underwhelmed by the level of commitment in the audience’s karate chopping during Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt 1, Coyne stops the band and restarts the song. Backed by a gently swaying pink robot, the singer’s decision to call the crowd’s bluff pays off. The rest of the song is performed gorgeously and the waves of enthusiastic karate chops that follow are joyous.

A giant inflatable rainbow pops up as Do You Realise?? begins. It is the opinion of this writer that Do You Realise?? is one of the finest songs ever written, and that every single person with even a passing acquaintance with The Flaming Lips should see it performed live once. Hell, every person with a soul should see it performed live at least once. Confetti rains, outstretched hands reach for the sky, and there is little else left to do but bathe in the euphoria of the song.