Flaming Lips live, Hammersmith Apollo, 14 November
You have to hand it to the Flaming Lips, they sure know how to throw a party. No specific occasion this one - they bypassed the twentieth anniversary of their formation some three years ago - but for the most relentlessly joyous band around, every day is one to celebrate. The buzz of pre-performance anticipation is discernible, those who’ve previously witnessed a gig by the Oklahoma trio (along with live drummer Kliph Scurlock tonight) have clearly built up the expectation levels of the Lips virgins present. They’ve all come expecting dancing Santas and aliens, confetti explosions and the most uplifting live experience around. They are not to be disappointed.
The 5,000 green and yellow balloons handed out quickly begin to soar around the converted theatre, adding to the childlike qualities of chief Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys’ warm-up show. Performing an array of solo songs in English and Welsh, he sits at a table surrounded by a multitude of toys, instruments and combinations of the two. Some of these he plays, others such as a large red crash helmet similar to the one worn by Jack Nicholson in 'Easy Rider', appear to be there for feng shui purposes. Rhys’ quirky acid-folk and good-natured buffoonery prove a winning combination, it’s telling of the headliners’ approach that they selected such a genial character to open.
Famously debuted at the Grammies and unveiled in the UK via the Lips’ performances at the Leeds and London Wireless festival this summer, Wayne Coyne’s giant hamster ball has become the stuff of legend. To the delight of the crowd, he emerges from backstage climbing into the transparent sphere and launches himself onto the swathes of arms waiting. Following a full lap of the Apollo’s standing area, he is joined by his fellow band-mates and they launch into ‘Race For The Prize’, taken from astonishing breakthrough album 'The Soft Bulletin'.
Yet more balloons, on-stage explosions and a dancing cast of superheroes form the backdrop for one of the most intensely euphoric live experiences imaginable. The crowd are ecstatic, bouncing throughout and beaming back at Coyne as he stands, palm stretched out, ushering in the pounding drums of the chorus with the refrain, “They’re just humans with wives and children!”.
He ends the song dancing like a snappily-dressed, excitable Pied Piper, twirling a dazzling cord of light around until the mania dies down. It’s an unbelievable opening, and while the rest of the show cannot possibly live up to the bottled essence of those amazing four minutes, there are plentiful highlights to come.
'Free Radicals' and recent single 'The W.A.N.D.' trade funk-rock riffs, while crowd favourite 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt.1' ends in a massive communal sing-a-long - one of many tonight. Once again expressing his disgust for George Bush’s administration, Coyne subverts any negative energy into a gloriously confrontational and exhilarating ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’. While there are none of the Lips’ famously eclectic cover versions tonight, they do trawl into their back catalogue to play the zany psych-pop of 1994’s 'She Don’t Use Jelly', although die-hards in the crowd shouting for 1989’s 'Unconsciously Screamin' are sadly out of luck.
Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins are quiet and professional throughout, content to let Coyne run the show, but aware of their huge contribution. As Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers once retorted, “Wayne’s biggest asset? Steven!” The skeleton outfit-wearing Ivins cannot be underestimated either, his presence since the outset of the band shows how integral he has been to their success. The set is rounded off by 'Do You Realise', its ubiquity matters little, it is clearly a special song that inspires open sobbing, air-punching delight and embraces all round.
Frequently when introducing the songs, Coyne explains at some length the intentions behind them in passionate, humble terms. If music can’t change the world he concludes, then joy, positivity and love might - feelings the Flaming Lips and their wonderful music inspire in all tonight.