The Flaming Lips @ The Dome, Brighton 22.05.13

The Flaming Lips current European tour arrives off the back of their best reviewed album in years; The Terror.

May 22nd, 2013 at The Dome, Brighton / By John Dineen
The Flaming Lips @ The Dome, Brighton 22.05.13 It could be argued that the Flaming Lips have been treading water in recent years with much of their still prolific work longer on conceptual wackiness than actual substance. Six hour songs and EP’s packaged in rubber skulls are just two examples of interesting work that has fallen well short of the emotional impact of such albums as The Soft Bulletin. However, this new album brings heightened intrigue and the expectation is certainly palpable amongst Brighton’s typical Flaming Lips crowd of hippies, drug casualties, middle-aged chin-strokers and your usual collection of eccentrics. It should be noted, despite this, that it is always surprising how large the mainstream audience is for their gigs which is surely a testament to their often buried pop instincts but particularly to their legendarily engaging live show.

And it is for the live show that many people are here although I suspect that many will have been surprised by the sight that welcomed them in Brighton’s legendary Dome. Gone is the cartoon-hippy aesthetic of their last UK tour. No animal costumes, no giant hands and no space bubble. It has been replaced by a sinister Geiger inspired set, all bulbous metal and tyrannical octopus podiums. A still eccentric but certainly downcast atmosphere is created. This feels right considering the circumstances of the gig, with the ‘Lips’ hometown of Oklahoma having just suffered a natural disaster of Wizard of Oz proportions and recent illnesses leading to cancelled gigs.

However any concerns that the band have lost the urge to party are quickly dispelled as the band lurched violently into the opening track ‘Look… The Sun Is Rising’ and the set ignited creating a spectacle that could only be described as an epileptic vision of a party of electric snakes. Psychedelic visuals, insanely powerful lights, black confetti and the ominous, heavy grooves of a The Terror heavy set made for a typically sensory overloaded Flaming Lips gig. However, the mood and the music were darker than we’ve seen before and Wayne Coyne’s preposterous vocal podium gave the sense of a man preaching as much as partying.

The sense of a more serious message from this normally so exuberant of bands was perfectly exemplified by the incredibly sombre almost hymnal arrangements of the classic songs, ‘Race For The Prize’ and ‘Do You Realise??’. Both songs pack an emotional punch normally, but in this context it turned the whole gig experience into something more akin to a communion. This is truly the key to why Flaming Lips gigs can be so special and begins with the band happily setting up their gear in front of the crowd with the roadies. Wayne Coyne despite suffering from flu, engages with the crowd in his typically heart felt way that whilst skirting the fine line of egomania is always eccentric, entertaining but most importantly genuine. He also, despite illness, actually sings in tune which Lips fans will know is never guaranteed. This is a band that for all their creative insanity is always attempting to connect with their audience and that is certainly refreshing in this most cynical of businesses.

Wayne hammers this point home by urging us to make a stand against the ‘bad motherfuckers’ in the world after a particularly rousing cover of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The Lips attack much of their new material with such savagery that such soothing lullabies as ’Try To Explain’ becomes a throbbing assault on our sanity that is as disconcerting as it is exhilarating. Much of this can be attributed to the Lips in-house musical genius, Steven Drozd, who bestrides his cornucopia of musical equipment like a magician, seemingly always playing two instruments at once. The power of the music never lets you forget that you are at a rock concert despite all the theatrics.

There were perhaps a few missteps. A desultory cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ a seemingly off the cuff tribute to the Floyd’s legendary Dome gig was well intentioned but slightly cack and a lack of songs from the back catalogue probably disappointed the hardcore fans. However, despite the darker nature of much of the material this was another joyously triumphant performance from the Flaming Lips. This is a band that whilst refusing to stand still, always manages to drag their audience into their mindset through sheer creative force of will. This is a considerable talent and an example to many younger bands.