This was my third Flaming Lips gig.
If you like Flaming Lips and even if you don’t like them (can’t consider you don’t know them if you are reading this), a Flaming Lips gig is a must view experience. Probably one of the best visual, party-feeling, live show you can attend nowadays. Any concert goer must get to see their live bash once.
Twice is still OK if you are a fan, three times only if you are a photographer and you finally managed to get a pass, but don’t insist if you have not other reasons. To avoid disappointment, trust me.
Flaming Lips live, my experience at least, repeat again and again the same show. Indoor or open air, festival or their tour, small or big venues, the show is pretty much the same.
The first time gets you overexcited because is beautiful, the second you wonder if it has been a coincidence, the third you go like… “again?”. It makes you feel like you have been eating too much of that wonderful cake and now you feel stuffed.
I wonder why Flaming Lips do this. They clearly don’t lack fantasy, budget or a huge back catalogue.
Bands should know nowadays that people go to gigs more than once, I don’t know the percentage of multiple goers, but I know quite a few people doing this.
Why not changing something?!
I understand the light show, the special effects, the balloons are cool ideas and worth repeating, but the chats, the songs, the dancers, the videos… make an effort.
If I reviewed Flaming Lips first time I would write about an amazing, excellent show.
Reviewing them at the third experience it’s harder to keep the excitement as high. I will do my best, because in the end gigs must be commented for what they are, I guess… do they?
The anticlimax happens from the beginning. Wayne Coyne is on stage setting his instruments and his odd machines with the technicians. An anti-rockstar ego from a rockstar with a huge ego is a bit of a contradiction.
He leaves no surprises, even the few people unaware of what’s going to happen learn from his voice that he is going to inflate the transparent ball and roll inside it, why telling? Bizarre.
So while the band enters the stage coming out from a kind of multicolor vagina of a woman-shaped spaceship (that is it), Wayne Coyne is inside the inflating big transparent ballon. He salutes the woman from inside the ball and takes his walk towards the crowd. Undoubtedly it is one of the most “wow effect” to open a gig since Pink Floyd.
The big ball rolls on the head of the fans, hundreds of raised hands trying to touch it. Smoke machines try their best to make the event not photographable hiding the object and its guest in a thick fog. (why?)
Music is loud and orchestral, people don’t put attention to it. Both sides of the stage fill up with many people dressed up as weird animals, they will dance relentlessly throughout the show.
When the ball rolls back on to the stage, and Wayne Coyne comes out of it, the proper carnival begins.
He his the star, he is the kid, he is the director. He has fun shooting his rifle loaded with streamers while huge cannons shoot millions of confetti in the air who pour down on the people. It snows colourful flakes.
A myriad of inflated balloons inundate the stalls, pushed by the fans they start an endless dance that persists during the entire show, some burst, some come back to the stage, some defy gravity and reach the gallery.
It does not feel as a concert. It is a party with live music. Everyone is having fun and going nut. The music soundtracks the event.
Race For The Prize is the opening track. The first and only song they play from their masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin. With the on-purpose out of tune organ that tries to emerge from the chaos telling a story of two determined scientists that could do something dangerous.
Silver Trembling Hand follows from Embryonic, their latest album. I am quite curious and hopeful that tonight set is going to be Embryonic oriented, since it is a gem of an album.
A brave, crazy experimental jam, that dares to go everywhere the band feel like, with no rules, no constraints, no fixed direction except the passion of playing together.
From their own pop-psychedelia to Miles Davis’ free jazz. There are no proper songs in but one (I Can Be A Frog, not played tonight) and there is a track in the middle, (Powerless, not played tonight), which is the most adventurous, almost suicidal recording a successful pop band has ever tried.
Recording such an album is possible either you are very confident, or you are very famous. Flaming Lips are both that must be why the album it’s a double! Eighteen tracks that if coming from Radiohead instead, music magazines would be reviewing the album of the decade lists at the very last minute.
Back to the gig, back to the already seen, unfortunately. The videocamera mounted on the microphone pole records Wayne face with a wideangle distorted effect which is projected on the back, checked.
He says something about war and peace and Yeah Yeah Yeah song, checked.
The speech was already too long, but meaningful, during George Bush era; it still sounds too long, but meaningless, in the Obama peace Nobel prize winner era.
If Race For The Prize opens the Soft Bullettin, and Yeah Yeah Yeah song opens At War With The Mystics now arrives Fight Test which opens Yoshimi Battle and the Pink Robot. They must love opening tracks.
Another classic, a beautiful tune that would shine if Wayne Coyne had some voice left to sing.
We enter the big question here, of the entire night and of Flaming Lips present and future. Wayne Coyne can’t sing anymore. He has never had the deepest voice of the circus but live is now sounding as a problem. The use of megaphones, effects, tricks can’t always cover the truth. On the record, limiting the vocal parts and asking for help to a good sound engineer it is still possible to do something, but live the reality is in front of everyone.
Is this why he tries to distract people exploding balloons in the face of everyone? Do something, give him some voice back!
An Embryonic miniset arrives. Convinced of The Hex (of course, the opening track) is a guitar going mad shaping a wobbling tale into differences between ex lovers… if I got it. Evil slows down the Flaming Lips way and See The Leaves brings the fun back as anyone can see having a look at the side stage dancers.
Not sure how this new stuff goes down well with fans who loved the band on the golden pop songs period around Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi but I would pay to see the Lips playing Embryonic in its entirety live. Even renouncing to balloons and confetti for more musical substance.
Instead the gig reverts back to classics. Yoshimi Battle and the Pink Robots (the song) is lovely as always.
Pompeii am Götterdämmerung is probably my favourite song from At War With The Mystics and live becomes even more what it says from the title: an open, sincere, unhidden homage to Pink Floyd pre Dark Side of The Moon. Back to the Live at Pompei era.
The opening melody, the sweet singing and most of all the drumming ending any verse on crushing cymbals bring back to life those Meddle atmospheres.
Live (not tonight but everytime) green laser light beams do the Pink Floyd thing tout court.
The news that Flaming Lips have recorded the entire Dark Side Of The Moon, which is due to follow Embryonic sometimes in the future, left fans of both bands awaiting anxiously. I hoped that something magic was going to happen now, it would have been the perfect moment to play Breathe or Eclipse, but it did not happen. Shame!
Instead The W.A.N.D., despite the reverse tracklisting, keeps things on At War With The Mystics.
The set is clearly concentrated on the albums of this decade, as usual.
It’s only with the closing track, She Don’t Use Jelly, they remind everyone to have been active since the early 90s. A live classic, probably the song that opened the world to them. Tonight it closes the gig on a high. Cannons shoot millions more confetti in the air, streamers all around, balloons exploding, animals dancing and the party closes with the band disappearing. But the band is the last thing to put your attention on at this show.
Predictably, as all the rest, Flaming Lips come back for a (quick) encore to sing, what everyone is waiting. Do You realize???
Yes you do, I know.
Gig is over, a girl swims in a sea of yellow and orange confetti left on carpet (?) floor of the retro London venue, the Troxy.
Balloons disappear, party is over. A great party, not a great concert, though. Still a must see experience if you haven’t seen the Lips, don’t miss your chance to be part of this.
Photographing Flaming Lips requires a phototip of its own. It’s more like photographing the samba schools parade during Rio Carnival than any other rock show.
On the first 15 minutes that the pit is open to photographers, you are suffocated by smoke, submerged by confetti, hit by huge rubber balloons (bouncing everywhere and getting in the middle between your lens and anything you may shoot) and, of course, Wayne Coyne rolling into the huge ball over you, over the crowd with his security guys in the pit with photographers. Forget the band.
All is in Technicolor, so don’t follow my radicalism. Shoot Flaming Lips in colour, because when colour has a meaning, when colour talks, there is no reason to deprive the images of it.
To get the best out of the confetti’s rain, wait for a backlight that will stand them out of the background.
To shoot the balloons you don’t have to do anything, they are so many your problem will be how to avoid them. It would be beautiful to freeze one of the many Wayne explodes releasing their colourful content, but again, that’s more about luck than technique.
Don’t forget to turn yourself to the crowd with a wide angle to get some shots of a myriad of bouncing balls over the head of dancing people.
To catch Wayne Coyne inside the big ball is tricky.
The journey lasts few seconds, the ball gets inflated on stage, than quickly passes over your head immersed in a thick smoke with the security keeping photographers away from it. Correct focusing, a short time and bad lights are the main problem.
Soon he will be rolling over the crowd, too far for a wideangle. A zoom in the range 24-80 is the ideal lens.
If you are after just this shot, or you have already shot the Lips from the pit, I’d suggest to go on an elevated position. Outside the pit on the balcony for example, and take photos from there. That is perfect to get the ball over the audience and include the colourful stage. Next time I’ll do. My first time I wanted to be close.
Next time I will also give you more tips, because despite having shoot hundreds of rock concerts there is nothing like being in the pit when Flaming Lips are on stage.
It was a first time, I need more experience and I’ll be back to you, you know I will.