Photos by Josh Braybrook
This was a night to remember.
For those of you young enough to be blissfully unaware of The Flaming Lips, tonight’s performance might have completely flown under your radar. But for those of us old and dusty enough to remember the halcyon-soaked feelings of hearing those first reverb-soaked drum hits that open 1999’s psychedelic opus The Soft Bulletin, tonight was an emotional god damn revelation; the live exorcism we’d been waiting for all our lives.
From the moment the band crept in through the darkness (dressed as immaculately as ever) and exploded into the joy-inducing ‘Race For The Prize’, it was clear to the crowd that they were witnessing something incredibly special, and that we were all just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Confetti cannons spewed into Hamer Hall as gigantic multi-coloured balloons bounced around the crowd like the physical embodiment of happiness that they were, and the faces around me beamed back their love and affection in return. It was a beautiful exchange, with Wayne Coyne’s almost limping, melancholic falsetto feeling seven stories tall in this atmosphere, the crowd roaring back their best Wayne Coyne impressions in a rapturous return.
By the time those sun-soaked synth strings from the sublime ‘A Spoonful Weighs a Ton’ filled the air, you could see the pure love and elation being felt by the crowd. If there’s one way to describe The Flaming Lips live, it’s definitely ‘love’. Every new song introduced was met with roars of affection, with each of our favourite moments from The Soft Bulletin being so lovingly recreated with such expert finesse that you couldn’t help but feel appreciative. Singing along with every sickly sweet moment of ‘The Spiderbite Song’ had hearts exploding, and the crowd-replicated bug sounds in the romp-fest ‘Buggin” were louder at times than the actual performance on stage.
There was one thing about tonight that was strange though; it felt like every time there was a lull in crowd response, Coyne would lean hard on us to bring it back up, vocalising his urgency. It happened throughout the first half of the set and to be honest, at a point it became kind of frustrating, as an album this lovingly created with such intensely introspective musical passages can call for a bit of introspection on the crowd’s part. It felt like that opportunity was taken away by Coyne at times.
In introducing the heartbreaking ode to hope, ‘Waitin’ For Superman’, though, he made things clear – the reason he wanted us to make so much noise was because the album is an emotionally weighty undertaking and for some members in the crowd, tonight would be an overwhelming experience. Coyne urged us to celebrate; to give the room light and love and to whoop and holler our guts out for everybody who can’t, so that they can feel the love. And that’s exactly what we did, right until the last ephemeral notes guitar notes of ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’ brought the whole room to tears.
It was an intense emotional rollercoaster of a night that I wouldn’t trade for the world; if you’ve never had the chance to feel the joy of a Flaming Lips performance, do yourself a favour the next chance you get. Your heart will thank you.
Melbourne International Arts Festival takes over the city until Sunday October 20. Check out the program and buy tickets via the festival website.