The Flaming Lips review – potent hit of feelgood psychedelia

Brixton Academy, London
The psychpop veterans throw rock’s greatest acid punch party, complete with confetti canyons, balloons and overgrown aliens

Nothing says I’m over it like riding on to the Brixton Academy stage on a unicorn with a neon mane, wearing glitterball trousers and a fruit codpiece and flinging handfuls of glitter from Barbarella’s handbag.

While your mind de-boggles, some context: the 2013 album The Terror by Oklahoma’s legendary psychpop experimentalists the Flaming Lips was a work coloured in dark and anguished tones by singer Wayne Coyne’s split from his partner of 25 years. On a tour to support the album, Coyne spent much of the show atop a podium of pulsating umbilical cords singing songs of paranoia and despair like some doleful B-movie overlord from Planet X. For a band renowned for joyous psychedelic extravaganzas, it made for cold and unsettling viewing, their 35-year good trip finally turning bad.

Though the band’s new album, Oczy Mlody, echoes the sparse, forlorn experimentalism of The Terror, Coyne has thankfully conceded that the Lips work best live in their traditional form as the embodiment of cartoon psychedelia, perhaps after stern words from new best mate Miley Cyrus. So tonight we’re back at rock’s greatest acid punch party, a surreal cross between the Magical Mystery Tour, Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy and the sort of ecstatic ticker-tape inauguration parade that was going on in Donald Trump’s head.

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne in London.
Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne in London. Photograph: Simone Joyner/Redferns

At the opening sci-fi overture of Race for the Prize, the venue explodes with balloons, confetti cannons and rainbow visuals as Coyne – done out like a Tim Burton-Albert Einstein – throws a huge silver balloon sign reading “FUCK YEAH LONDON” into a crowd peppered with Father Christmases. For a tender acoustic take on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: Pt One, he’s flanked by overgrown aliens and goblins and repeatedly hugs an inflatable sun.

Come the mangled Beck-in-a-tumble-dryer electro-rock of What Is the Light?, the forest of dot-matrix strings hanging overhead – let’s call them Rapunzel lights – descends to stage level so that Coyne, wandering within them, looks as if he’s showering in sine waves. The two-hour show includes light-up gongs, psychedelic nudes and gigantic dancing eyeballs beamed in from an alternate universe in which the Residents are playing stadiums.

Disclaimer: no hallucinogens were abused in the making of this review.

Songs from their current comedown phase provide amorphous, dream-like counterpoint. On glacial mecha-ballad How??, a crestfallen plea for liberal freedoms that feels all the more hopeless in the face of Donald Trump’s tangerine terror-glare, Coyne sounds as if he’s trapped in one of Coleridge’s pleasure-dome ice caves, while album highlight The Castle resembles a fanfare for fairytale royalty. And, of course, Coyne sings Dalek chill-out tune There Should Be Unicorns astride a life-sized prop unicorn, having presumably gone skip-diving at Mariah Carey’s house.

Whether walking over the crowd in his giant plastic ball singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity, donning a strobe-light medallion for The WAND or leading a concerted effort to break the ceiling by screaming “love” ahead of Do You Realize??, Coyne seems reborn, once again dishing out the purest, most potent dose of feelgood psychedelia imaginable. Welcome back, Emperor Zing.

• At Manchester Academy on 22 January. Box office: 0161-832 1111.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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