words: Sarah Rix
photos: Nathan Goldsworthy @odin.imaging
“… they’re clearly competent at preparing the feast – and in this case they’re serving it to you as a hot, steaming pile of confetti-stuffed Americana-meets-psychedelia.”
Going to a Flaming Lips show is like going to a restaurant that asks its diners to bring their own food.
Logic dictates that the better the ingredients you bring, the better the meal will be. If you’re into it, they’ll be into it. If you’re enthusiastic about what’s going on, it’ll be better for everyone.
Cue Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne who, shortly into the band’s 17-song set, told the Melbourne audience: “My promise for the rest of the night is that whenever you applaud and go crazy, we will respond.”
That’s all to say that The Flaming Lips are very much a band that feeds off the audience’s energy. It’s why Coyne asked not once, not twice, but 22 times over the course of two-hours, for the audience to scream at him and the six other musicians assembled on stage. It was an overt pleading you don’t frequently see with musicians, and revelatory of Coyne’s insecurities (or perhaps just an enlightenment of his experience playing live shows with The Flaming Lips.)
Starting with a blaze of balloons and confetti set the happy-go-lucky, everybody smile(!) scene, but there’s also a definite divide between The Flaming Lips’ melancholic recorded work (appearing at the Melbourne International Arts Festival with a tour of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin) and the sense of boundless hope they need from the masses.
As a critical patron of this weird BYOF restaurant, you’ll ask yourself why the chefs haven’t gone shopping and brought the materials they need. Is it too much to suggest that maybe The Flaming Lips just increase the tempo (or, in keeping with my restaurant analogy, the temperature) of their songs and make the crowd bounce? After all, they’re clearly competent at preparing the feast – and in this case they’re serving it to you as a hot, steaming pile of confetti-stuffed Americana-meets-psychedelia, wrapped in the blinding glare of a LED lightshow spectacle, with a giant inflatable robot thrown in for good measure.
Thankfully, The Flaming Lips have built up an audience of music fans over their 36 years (particularly with the breakthrough of their seminal Soft Bulletin), who are willing participants of the festivites. It’s a crowd that’s there to enjoy the music – and to the band's credit, there was much to celebrate.
Highlights of the evening included Coyne’s delivery of the line “it would destroy me” on the sweet and earnest “The Spiderbite Song”; the room spinning with a disco glow as double drums from Matt Duckworth Kirksey and Nick Ley lifted “What Is the Light”; the magical-mystery-tour-esque bounce of “The Gash”; Steven Drozd’s ripping guitar work on “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”; and, of course, the blissful everyone's-in-this-together singalong of "Do You Realize??" that closed the night.
The short of it is: you can ask the audience to have a good time, but maybe you can also just expect that they will.
Yes – telling a seated audience at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall to stand is a great idea. Yes, encouraging them to get into it is helpful, particularly with a Thursday night working crowd. I can’t fault them there. But asking the audience to be into it and that you need more energy 22 times? That’s a lot of times.
Maybe it would all have tasted just a bit better as a genuine reaction of surprise, delight, and wonderment.