Tuesday, October 28, 2003

DON'T SNORT YOUR OWN BRAINS: Simon Tyers reports from Leicester:

The Flaming Lips and others, Leicester De Montfort Hall last night:

It's official - the Lips are mainstream. Among the pretty much sold out audience are a kid of about eleven just in front of me (thanks to a cock-up on my part I end up seated in the rear circle right next to the mainentrance/exit) and just along are three people surely of senior citizen ticket qualification age. Wayne Coyne later says the show feels like an enormous birthday party, hence the mid-show Happy Birthday-singing ritual, but what attracts quite a few older people is less clear. The write-ups in Mojo, perhaps, or the Guardian reckoning on Friday that they are the best band in America. We shall see.

I arrive just as Steve Burns is introducing himself. A former kids' TV host from Brooklyn, reliable old Dave Fridmann produced his first album and it shows, spacey, tight guitar pop of a Lips-meet-Dinosaur Jnr bent with, when they're audible, clever lyricism. He's admirably self-depricating too, announcing one song as being "about nanotechnology... and love", and he has the Lips' eye for staging, not only borrowing Wayne's mike cam (and Steven Drozd briefly) but having the drummer wear a hard hat with a mini-camera embedded in the front for one song. And he makes his own slightly surreal backing films, Coyne appearing in the first one as well as being visible at the side of the stage for almost the whole set. The album's called Songs For Dust Mites, Burns has stuck all the tracks in a Shockwave application on www.steveswebpage.com and should a British distributor pick it up, watch those positive reviews fly in.

Which is something Clinic are well used to. I've seen them three times now, and each time I've gone away with tinnitus. The setlist doesn't seem to have changed since they toured the last album, but only a handful of people seem to recognise the songs, even The One From The Advert which is thrown away third. Sticking in a B-side from their first single hardly helps that cause, but that's by the by. Having been in the studio for a long time there is an element of ring rustiness, especially during The Return Of Evil Bill where someone sounds slightly out of time with the rest of the band for most of the song, and their film is a looped go-go dancer, suggesting they only realised there'd be a video screen last week. Still, good to see they're still around, and back in the medical uniforms they briefly ditched.

I go out for a couple of minutes to stop my ears ringing and a tout outside the gates asks if I want a ticket. Given I've just come out of the venue, you mean?

You know what a Flaming Lips gig is like before you've been to one. There's going to be animal costumes, balloons, fake blood, mirrorballs, slightly unsettling videos, a nun glove puppet and a man in his forties punching the air and jumping around like he's had a shot of pure adrenaline. The factors that really stand out, though, although of course all that helps, are twofold. Firstly, there's Coyne himself. He has a way of bonding with his audience that allows him to pontificate, for want of a better word, in a way you wouldn't give others house room if they tried similarly. What works for him is he sounds like he believes what he's talking about, and you just know that's the case, hence you listen to him telling us to love each other more openly and it sounds like the most obvious piece of stage patter ever.

Secondly, and amid everything else this can get overlooked, are the songs. An odd mix too that seems like a Greatest Hits setlist, featuring four from Yoshimi, four from the Soft Bulletin, one each from Clouds Taste Metallic and Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, one from Chemical Brothers Singles - The Golden Path rendered in a Satellite Heart-esque way and creating an odd high-kicking chorus line from one side of the furry menagerie - and two covers, Seven Nation Army greeted as if it was their big hit rather than Jack and Meg's ("they were on crack and drove into a ditch, that's what happened, isn't it?") and the stratospheric closer of Pink Floyd's Breathe. Every song sounds immense, come to that, starting with a spectacularly joyous Race For The Prize and reaching a peak when Wayne dedicates Waitin' For A Superman to Elliott Smith and there seem to be quite a few people finding something in their eye by the end. By the end of Do You Realize? two of the OAPs are punching the air. The third looks like he doesn't approve, but that's by the by.

At one point Wayne comments that this will be their last tour for a while, adding that he's been surprised how we've taken to the show. It is true that if any more bells, whistles and confetti were added there wouldn't be a permanent stage big enough for the show, but everyone on stage is clearly having such a great time that it can't help but transmit to those in front of them. Best band in America, the Guardian said. The bizarre thing is, they might have underestimated them on this showing.

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