Culture notes

Losing firepower

23 May 2013

1:00 PM

23 May 2013

1:00 PM

Man, I love the Flaming Lips. Psychedelic rock sublimity. They movingly address the deepest human concerns without a whiff of irony, while also seeing the point of confetti cannons, dancing penguins, having the lead singer surf the crowd in a giant plastic bubble, and so on and so forth.

This week, mind you, they played the Camden Roundhouse the day after a tornado killed 24 people in their hometown and (in other news) they had to cancel a gig because singer Wayne Coyne had so bad a cough he couldn’t speak. No wonder they weren’t entirely bouncy.


The material from their new album The Terror saw their usual ecstatic lift and soaring melancholy give way to a sort of minatory chug — like Led Zep played through an industrial rock-breaker. Not many hands aloft for that, though there was the odd moment. A glacially downtempo version of ‘Race For The Prize’ (‘they’re just humans… with wives and children’) finally opened out into a thrilling burst of sound; Coyne, in his silverblue suit, drenched in light, tears dampening the concertgoer’s eye. And there was an unexpected and semi-cheering cover of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. But mostly the energy was low and the sound muddy.

When the Flaming Lips are on form, live, seeing them is like tripping without drugs. Here it was more like: ‘Are you coming up yet? Hmm. Me neither.’ Wayne, God love him, should have been in bed with some Tixylix. What do you call the Flaming Lips when they don’t quite catch fire? Lips, I suppose.

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