What a long strange trip it’s been for Oklomaha’s The Flaming Lips.
At the start of their journey there were primitive anarchic splodges of shambolic, psychedelic cacophony and disintegrating shards of brain scan feedback. This was most notable on their fabulously riotous early nineties albums such as Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Oh My Gawd.
They now find themselves part of the mainstream, well sort of.
In a world that is quite obviously insane and totally preposterous I suppose it should only be right and proper that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is regarded as our bonkers saviour.
Let’s face it, rather him than Chris Martin or Ed Sheeran. Madness over sanitised sanity any day.
Anyway he’s not mad he’s just got an imagination that is bigger than a massively big tree with a six lane highway that’s been carved through it.
Think Brian Wilson meets Paul McCartney in a drugs factory. Think outside the box of frogs. He’s merely emancipated himself from mental slavery and got lost in the Strawberry Fields of the Nephilim, as you do.
Let’s not forget the band’s unsung heroes Steven Drozd, a name that sounds spookily a bit like an android, and Michael Ivins. These quietly loyal men at the back, whose melodic sensibilities have repeatedly come to the fore, have formed with Coyne a formidable song writing partnership.
So here we have another collection of loony tunes to devour, digest and discuss.
Oczy Mlody comes luke warm on the heels of the mildy entertaining Terror, and the awful Embryonic.
Over the last few years Wayne has spread his love too thinly, collaborations with Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Tame Impala and basically anybody he meets in a studio with a joint. This has been much to the detriment of the band he fronts.
There have been far too many side projects to distract from his primary directive- to blow peoples minds with the Flaming Lips.
I am happy to report that we’re on course again. This is the best Flaming Lips release since Yoshimi and those evil bastard robots grrr grrr.
It’s a relatively subdued album but absolutely littered with hooks, innocent magic, solemnity and gorgeousness. In the distance Death stands silently with a big scythe in one hand and a copy of Pet Sounds in the other.
Opening with glacial perfection the instrumental title track meanders gently into How?? an absolute Lips classic. Wayne’s vocals here are beauty personified. This will take the place of Do You Realise in their canon of crowd pleasing, heart string tuggers.
There Should Be Unicorns is a darkly hypnotic piece of electronica, with a haunting tracked vocal. Toward the end a scary Darth Vader voice speaks about swans and shit and I hastily conclude this is the best Lips track I have ever heard.
Sunrise and Nigdy Nie continue the lovely ethereal vibe. One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill, is as mad as its title suggests. Imagine a skeletal folk song from an alternative Cornish universe, where a confused semi naked Poldark meets Dr Timothy Leary.
Listening to the Frogs with Demon’s Eyes similarly morphs into a hallucinatory experience. Epic in scope and heaven on headphones, whilst on a train heading into St Pancras railway station at four in the morning.
The Castle is catchy-catchy pop. It sleepwalks on candyfloss, it’s a sexy rumination featuring mushrooms, bumble bees and dragons and should come with a free Arthur Rackham print.
We a Family closes on a high. It’s an anthemic little excursion; walking boots not required.
Back on track then. Where on Earth (or any other planet ) they go next is anybody’s guess. But be assured the trip is definitely not over yet. Tickets please.
These are some of The Flaming Lips best songs of their long career, don’t take my word for it, those evil robots are coming to get you. Yeah.
You know what its like, you go for a walk in the woods and fall down that bloody rabbit hole again.
As you fall you remember the last time this happened; you almost became imprisoned by the Red Queen, you know, the one that walks backwards and lives above a kebab shop in Lazytown. Luckily you were saved by a somewhat sweaty Japanese student in a giant black gorilla outfit.
You finally land uncomfortably on a bed of rice and a sea of beer and stumble toward a big cow shed made of drugs and dry roasted nuts. There’s two girls on a stage playing not very good music so you watch a fight and go and look for unicorns.
A wizard with a grey beard appears and you party like it’s 2099, driving an invisible car made of milk chocolate into a cave full of weeping men. A small yellow duck appears on your head, its powers will be revealed later. Steve Coogan laughs and you sing Space Oddity at the top of your voice.
Stars explode and a giant rainbow appears. The wizardy man floats off inside a bubble of love and you solve the Fermi Paradox.
Where are all the aliens? ?
They’re already here.
Look! A man on a somewhat immobile unicorn.
Making contact using variable sound vibrations, The Flaming Lips have a message for humanity. But you are so primitive you cannot understand it. Fortunately that small yellow plastic duck of destiny translates for you and the assembled throng. Sadly no one is listening as everybody is dancing badly to something that sounds like Passover by Joy Division.
The wizardy man makes deep pronouncements. A keyboard blows up and you find the words ‘make it a double please’ coming out of your mouth with increasing regularity.
Vertical curtains of illuminated light send beams of pure joy into the throng. There are cannons. There is a ticker tape supernova.
You’ve seen it all before. You love it. You forget there is a big ginger twat in The Whitehouse. You live briefly in a world of light, love and unity (and shit unicorns).
Do you realize? was so fucking moving. But it always is, just ask Alice.
With this their third album Tame Impala have truly emerged from mere interesting Australian psych rock act to global pop sensation in waiting.
Hitting the UK album charts at number three this month and number one in Australia, Currents deserves to be their most successful album to date. The weird trippy psych rock of their debut album Innerspeaker and the stomp of its follow up Lonerism, in particular its stand out track Elephant, are still here. So too are the synths you can lose yourself in and the quirky phasered drum rolls and guitar licks. But here they sound far more pop, far more danceable, with the bass squelchier and the band’s key figure Kevin Parker’s vocals purer, almost soulful at times.
The Less I Know the Better and Cause I’m a Man are genuine pop gems, to rival Innerspeaker’s top pop picker Solitude is Bliss. Let it Happen, in all its nearly eight minutes of glory, is weird, wonderful pop that could conceivably go on far longer.
So where does this leave Watson and co? A good point of reference is perhaps The Flaming Lips, another eclectic psychedelic outfit that embraced pop music on gusto ,on Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi and the Pink Robots. Take note festival organisers A Lips and Impala double bill on your main stage would be sensational. But on this evidence it may not be long before Tame Impala gets star billing of the two.
Do you realize…that The Flaming Lips are the greatest live band this side of the lesser Magellenic cloud and that The Young Knives are the best support band since Pink Floyd supported George Formby at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1754. It’s true I tell you, I have the migraine to prove it.
Goddammit, pre-gig I was messing about on the internet and found the date for The Flaming Lips first Rock City appearance, it was 1995, that was mad crazy, tonight was positively deranged (I should know, I was there in 95 as well).
I will leave you in suspense whilst I digress and write about Young Knives, a trio from the wilds of Leicestershire. I don’t know if they’ve been ingesting copious amounts of genetically modified crops but something’s been making them decidedly unhinged.
They’re a perfect foil for the Lips, they have their own bargain bin psychedelic stage show to accompany their fiery and at times really vicious set, playing material predominantly from Sick Octave, a Neonfiller Top 20 Album of 2013. They wrestle the songs to the ground, help them up and then kick ‘em back down again.
Frontman Henry Dartnell in particular is a focal point, summoning up the spirits of Joe Strummer, The Gang of four and even elements of free jazz and an early Mothers of Invention cacophony. To his left, dressed in Guantanamo orange boiler suit and paper mache Frank Sidebottom type head, is his brother Thomas, who lays down some dirty bass and keyboards. On Barbi-sized drum kit, Oliver Askew holds it all together (well almost). Their set is a head brew of chaotic, psychotic punk rock with just a hint of an invasive melodic chorus. They went down really well with everyone, apart from the miserable tall teenager with his immobile father in front of me. Losers.
The Flaming Lips
That was the two veg and now here is the meat, literally as TheFlaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne saunters on in a muscle onesie, looking from a distance like a bearded Greek god with his skin flayed off, he wraps himself in 500 miles of tinsel and is greeted like Jesus at teatime. The love, you could feel the love, it was a night of love, the band assemble around him and prepare for take off.
There was a bloke dressed as a gorilla standing next to me and a man with a giant mushroom on his head nearby as a ticker tape snowstorm started the dry ice enveloped the stage and strobes strafed the crowd. It was like The Blitz on acid.
Festivities begin with a blast from the past, ‘The abandoned hospital ship’ from Clouds Taste Metallic then the place went ballistic as ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ is turned into a huge singalong…as is Yoshimi, then we got some mind meltingly crunchy instrumental workouts, ‘In the Morning of the Magicians’ and ‘Watching the Planets. ‘
‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate’ was prefaced by Coyne telling us it’s a sad song, but don’t get upset, just feel the love. It was incredible and the mood lifted 47 notches skyward for the anthemic ‘Race for the Prize’, from Soft Bulletin.
The Flaming Lips
‘Look the Sun is Rising’, ‘The Wand’ and ‘Try to Explain’ were one part emotionally draining, nine parts falling into a black hole at the speed of light with your arse on fire, oh my God !… it’s full of love to paraphrase someone in 2001 a space odyssey.
During the rendition of ‘Waiting for Superman’ Coyne fought back tears, he knows the power of this music, he knows how much we love him, its almost tangible.
The encore ? Well it had to be their signature tune ‘Do you Realize’. It sums everything up about this band, it’s a simple song with the most poignant and let’s face it depressing lyric dressed up in a pretty skirt and shoes. But it resonates, it speaks of frailty and finality and it never fails to make me cry and go apeshit. I’m sorry but i can’t remain objective, this band mean the world to me, I lost my best friend Steve last year, he was a huge Flaming Lips fan, when Coyne sang….
‘And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round’
….. i thought of my friend and was reduced to a puddle on the floor.
They love doing cover versions, I’ve heard them do Pink Floyd ‘See Emily Play’, and ‘Breathe’ and ‘War Pigs by Black Sabbath but you will not believe what they ended on, only Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds by The Beatles, ten minutes of absolute heart rending majestic freakoutness.
Rock City has witnessed some amazing moments down the years, this took the biscuit, the tin the pantry, the kitchen, the sink, a more joyous extravagant over the top total sensory overload i have never experienced.
Bang! It’s all over, the lights come on the place looks like a pyschedelic rubbish heap, complete strangers hug and exchange e-mail addresses, people look stunned or stare wildly at the now empty stage, I look round for my brain, can’t find it and leave it behind. The transcendent power of music, some of you won’t understand, hopefully some of you do, I miss you like fuck Steve.
What makes a great gig? We are looking to compile a list of your best ever gigs via the comment box in this article and to get you thinking our contributors have taken a stroll down memory lane to revisit some of their favourite concerts.
The Flaming Lips’ explosive Greenman 2010 set. Pic by Arthur Hughes
For some of our writers a great gig is simply being in the right place at the right time, when a band at the peak of their powers performs at a stellar venue. For others it is one of their first tastes of live music, while for others it has been seeing musical history being made. Judging by the responses from our writers going to see the The Flaming Lips, almost anywhere and at any time, is also a sure sign of a gig’s greatness. So stand up, get your lighter and mobile phone out and settle into a feast of great gig memories. Look forward to reading about your gigs.
Joy Division, Assembly Rooms, Derby, October 1979
Joy Division were the support for The Buzzcocks and played in semi darkness, four stark immobile Mancunian stick insects. It was loud, brutal and threatening, then Ian started doing his mad dancing during She’s Lost Control; some people laughed, we hated them for laughing as for us here was something new. As Shadowplay echoed around this architectural monstrosity we looked at each other and realized punk was over, something had eaten its corpse and was spitting out blood, Ian was dying for us and nobody had noticed. (John Haylock)
Fugazi, Zap Club, Brighton, November 1989
Back in the late 1980s the now closed down Zap Club regularly booked up and coming alternative bands from the US. The legendary and superb bands I saw at this sweaty damp venue, nestled into the old fisherman’s arches on the seafront, included Mudhoney, The Lemonheads, Rollins Band, Teenage Fanclub and Hole. But for me the best of the bunch was Fugazi. I was tucked up just to the side at the front of the packed venue, half on the stage as lead singers Ian Mackaye and Guy Piciotto, together with the precision rhythm section of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, powered the band through a remarkable set. The timing was shortly after their first EP Margin Walker had come out and before 1990’s Repeater. Breathless, exciting and superb. (Joe Lepper)
Faith No More, Reading Festival, August 1990
In many ways this wasn’t an ideal gig. Sat between Nick Cave and The Cramps on the bill Faith No More were a bit of an oddity. The 1990s were also the decade when Reading was at it’s least “Rock”, it was the most “indie” of all the festivals during this period. The sound quality was also terrible, something that Reading was often guilty of, and a bootleg cassette I picked up some years later sounded pretty terrible. But it was my first real full-on festival rock experience and it seemed pretty wonderful at the time. The band arrived on stage to billowing smoke and an orchestral soundtrack (2001 perhaps?) before launching into a breakneck version of ‘From Out of Nowhere’. They rocked, they sneered (a snatch of New Kids on the Block in the middle of ‘We Care A Lot’) and front-man Mike Patton (replete in a kilt) scaled the stage scaffold. That was how to do it, something that The Pixies failed to emulate with a phoned in headline slot on The Sunday. They clearly already wanted to call it a day. (Dorian Rogers)
Nirvana, Astoria, London, October 1990
Friends at university told me that Nirvana were the next big thing. They played me Bleach, their only album at the time, and I was quite impressed even if it did sound like a Mudhoney rip off act. Turns out my friends were right, live they were sensational and across the 19-strong set Bleach’s tracks and Cobain’s vocals were filled with a passion I hadn’t grasped before. We were also treated to two new songs, Lithium and In Bloom, both destined for their forthcoming album, 1991’s Nevermind, which catapulted them to legend status. This was one of those great, ‘I was there’ moments in music history. (Joe Lepper)
Julian Cope, The Event, Brighton, September 1995
This gig happened at a point where Cope’s popularity (he had a top 40 hit with ‘Try,Try’Try’ from his then latest album 20 Mothers) was slightly out of kilter with his overall trajectory, having been dropped by Island a few years earlier. It may have been at the beginning of the end for Cope as a popular recording artist, but it was an exemplary live performance. Three sets were played that night involving 39 songs in total, the first being heavily drawn from his most recent albums and including a host of excellent cuts from Peggy Suicide. After this the band left the stage and Cope treated us to a set of solo acoustic numbers, chatting jovially and taking requests from the audience. And as is this wasn’t enough the band returned to the stage and treated us to a full greatest hits set featuring his best known songs both solo and with the Teardrop Explodes. Everything sounded great and at that moment he seemed like the best live performer in the world. (Dorian Rogers)
Neil Young, Phoenix Festival, Warwickshire, July 1997
After an eternity of soundchecking and with a minimum of fuss Young tore into Hey, Hey, My My. It was akin to being in the eye of a screaming tornado of sound and unbelievably it got better with Sedan Delivery, Why Do I Keep Fucking Up, Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River all having their entrails ripped open and fed through sixty thousand watts of amplification. It was guitarmageddon in a cowboy hat as he carried on, nailing acoustic versions of Sugar Mountain, Heart of Gold and Needle and the Damage Done. Forty six bottles of Evian water later I remember encores consisting of Like a Hurricane, Dangerbird, Rockin’ in the Free World and of course Cortez the Killer. My review in a word – legend. In another – goosebumps. (John Haylock)
Oasis, Cardiff International Arena, December 1997
My first ever gig – this is where it all began. The excitement, anticipation and the immortal feeling of being 15 years old and experiencing your musical idols for the very first time. I remember hearing ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ over the loudspeaker before the large curtain at the front of the stage suddenly opened and the band launched into ‘Be Here Now.’ The volume of those guitars hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer (in the best way possible) and, with that, I was born as an Oasis fan, gig goer and music fan for life. (Scott Hammond)
The Flaming Lips – Various, 1999-2012
Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999 – On the main stage were Divine Comedy, on the smaller stage were The Flaming Lips. Their album Soft Bulletin had just come out and I’d only heard the name not the music before. But as soon as lead singer Wayne Coyne took to the stage, bashing away at a giant gong with his giant personality and tiny, passionate voice, I knew this was no ordinary live band and the Divine Comedy could do one. The Flaming Lips didn’t even need animal costumes and giant space balls back then to be great. (Joe Lepper)
The Flaming Lips, Greenman 2010, pic by Arthur Hughes
Bristol Academy, January 2003 – My 18th Birthday night saw a busload of mates journey to see The Flaming Lips at the peak of their powers. Peerless pop conducted by Wayne Coyne’s all-engrossing showmanship. (Matthew Nicholson)
Greenman Festival, Wales, August 2010 -They were totally mindmeltingly awesomeballs. The grandiose epicness of the music married to the everything but the kitchen sink pyrotechnics of a stage show was so out there it would have put the big bang to shame. The power of live music to make you love this beautiful world, this, ladies and gentlemen is what it’s all about. (John Haylock)
Primavera Sound, Porto, June 2012 -I was excited when they were announced as part of the Primavera Sound festival lineup in Porto, but wasn’t prepared for the utter elation I felt seeing them live for the first time. They’re one of the best live acts ever – the colours, the spectacle, the songs – it all makes for a surreal, psychedelic explosion of music, complete with dancing girls and glitter cannons. I defy anyone to come away from a Lips gig feeling anything but on top of the world. (Patrica Turk)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999
This is my second entry from this excellent festival, which was curated by Belle and Sebastian and kick started the All Tomorrow’s Parties events. Watching Jon Spencer’s trio for the first time made me feel like a 1950s, Tennessee teenager at an early Elvis gig. I’d heard of Spencer’s band, I heard the odd track on CD, but nothing could prepare me for the incredible performance of dirty rock ‘n’ roll from this incredible front man, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins. To this day the most exciting live act I’ve ever seen. (Joe Lepper)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Radiohead, South Park, Oxford, July 2001
A wet homecoming night in which my favourite band headed a stupendous line-up (Humphrey Littleton, Sigur Ros, Supergrass, Beck) and delivered a heavyweight set of alt-rock anthems. (Matthew Nicholson)
Guided By Voices, ULU London, September 2003
This was the last time that Guided By Voices played in England, and possibly the only time that I’ll ever get to see them play. Bob Pollard’s famous hatred of travelling and their aborted ATP show in 2012 give little hope of a UK gig any time soon. Many people are stuck on the “classic” line-up of the band, but this gig featured the twin guitars of Doug Gillard and Nate Farley and they sounded pretty amazing to me. Blasting through a set that drew heavily from the then-current Earthquake Glue album we were treated to dozens of oddities and classics with fan favourites ‘Game of Pricks’, ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’ getting a particularly enthusiastic reception. This is a band that works hard playing a huge set (around 45 songs on this occassion) with an encore that lasted longer than some acts entire back catalogue. Legendary. (Dorian Rogers)
Guided By Voices
Roger Waters, Hyde Park, London, July 2007
As with many 16 year old teenage boys, desperate for intellectual stimulation and strange sensations, I was drawn to the minimalist soundscapes and sixth form philosophy of Pink Floyd. Listening to Dark Side of the Moon while staring at the ceiling and broodily muttering about the evils of Money was heaven to a tubby pubescent teenager with few social skills and no girlfriend. Seeing Roger Waters make a rare performance of the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon at this central London park, arms wrapped around fellow Floyd Fanatics, was made all the more luscious as the moon came out and he sang the final refrains. (Conal Dougan)
Monsters of Folk, Cardiff Coal Exchange, November 2009
An intimate gig in front of a seated audience, the supergroup played for a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes. Playing the MOF album in its entirety along with a panoply of Bright Eyes, M Ward and My Morning Jacket tunes, I couldn’t quite believe I was bearing witness to two of my all-time musical heroes (Conor Oberst and Ward) on stage in this tiny space in Cardiff Bay. Costing less than £15 a ticket and with only 300 people in attendance, I truly blessed the world for its lack of taste. (Scott Hammond)
Blur, Glastonbury Festival, July 2009
Watching a reformed band on the heritage rock scene can offer be a sad experience. Not so when Blur decided to reform for a run of gigs that included a show stopping set at Glastonbury. They played everything you hoped they would but it was Tender that provided the real spine tingling moment and, indeed, the mass singalong. (Matthew Nicholson)
Pulp Brixton Academy, London, September 2011
Growing up in Australia, Pulp were a band that I thought I’d never get to see live. But then, as so many do, they reformed and toured. They’re the songs from my teenage years and seeing Jarvis up close and personal was a girlhood dream come true. Nothing compares to hearing and seeing your old-time favourites performed live and it was a terrific moment of past-and-present excitement all rolled into one. Jarvis is still my hero. I even have his face on my tea mug. I’m 30. (Patricia Turk)
Pulp, Brixton Academy, 2011. Pic by Patricia Turk
Field Music and Stealing Sheep, The Fleece, Bristol, February 2012
Sometimes gigs are just perfect in every way from venue to support to crowd to stage banter. Field Music’s musical talent is well known on record, but live their mixture of King Crimson prog rock with the jerky pop of XTC is even more incredible. Here they were on top form, rattling out 23 tracks, from their back catalogue and to promote their then latest album Plumb. They were funny as well in between songs and just about the most engaging band you’ll ever see. To top it all the support act, Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep, left the packed crowd at this legendary venue in awe with their blend of folk, hippy chic and surf rock. The best support act I have ever and probably will ever see. (Joe Lepper)
Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012
Django Django, Bestival, Isle of Wight, September 2012
The highlight of an astounding festival, featuring knock-out gigs by De La Soul, Stevie Wonder and The XX, was a small tent performance by Django Django. With the speaker volume tempered to make later headline acts more of a spectacle, the crowd was pulled ever closer to the stage to be immersed in their folktronica rhythms. The crowd joined to become a single amorphous beast, embracing each other to shift body weight and crouch for the peak of Default. Jazz fags and rum punches were merrily shared with trucker women and inebriated Glaswegians as the best weekend of my life got off to the perfect start. (Conal Dougan)
First Aid Kit, Moles, Bath, September 2012
Enjoying a pre-gig pint in a quiet pub adjacent to Moles, I suddenly saw the young Swedish sisters emerge from a neighbouring building and casually walk towards the venue completely without regard from anyone passing by. It was almost like they weren’t brilliantly talented, precocious songwriting prodigies or something. I got to the door, handed over my £10 ticket and was astonished to find that the 220 capacity venue hadn’t yet sold out. I then found my standing space just 10 feet away from Klara, Johanna and those gorgeous vocal harmonies. (Scott Hammond)
First Aid Kit, circa 2012. Pic by Joe Lepper
Tame Impala, Primavera Festival, Barcelona, May 2013
Primavera Festival is renowned for its outstanding sound quality above its atmosphere, with main stage headline sets sounding intimate and personal. Upon arriving early on the first day, however, we really were treated to an intimate gig, with Tame Impala rehearsing their full set to only a handful of us. Frontman Kevin Parker’s remark that “we thought there would be more of you here” came just before we were escorted out by a security team, embarrassed from mistakenly letting us in early. The brilliant set they played later that night to a huge crowd, the balmy sea breeze flowing through Parker’s hair as the band waded through their psychedelic back catalogue, was made all the more magical by having seen them rehearse for our sole pleasure. (Conal Dougan)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Glastonbury Festival, June 2013
Nestled about 20 people back from the main Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2013 on a Sunday evening I was expecting to be impressed by Nick Cave but not completely blown away by his brilliance. Across his hour long set he provided a masterclass in live performance. The whole experience was made even better by his scheduling just before the Folk-lite of Mumford and Sons. Their eager young fans being beaten back verbally by Cave’s middle aged hardcore fans was great to see. The poor Mumford dears that sneaked through were left open mouthed as Cave showed them how live music should be played. And as if that wasn’t enough, during Stagger Lee Cave moved into the crowd and serenaded a female fan dressed entirely in white, who appeared atop a pair of shoulders like Kylie’s ghost rising out of the swamp. (Joe Lepper)
Nick Cave crowd schmoozing at Glastonbury, 2013. Pic by Joe Lepper
The National, Roundhouse, London, June 2013
When a snap show at the Roundhouse was announced I was more than prepared to spend an hour and half in an online queue to see one of my most favourite bands in one my most favourite venues. It was everything I wanted it to be. The National are a special band of super talented musicians, led by an extraordinary voice in Matt Berninger. The songs are emotional, intelligent and epic, and the gig was intense, driven, amazing. There’s nothing like being part of an audience that adores the band they’re seeing. Spectacular. (Patricia Turk)
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Greenman Festival, August 2013
Propelled by Melody Prochet’s ethereal floaty vocals, the band add crunch and added freak out, I stood there entranced like a good looking deer in the headlights of a pop car, that is until I got so carried away during Crystallized that I became a danger to passing aircraft. They swept me up in a whirling vortex of sound that I keep playing back in my mind like some antiquated reel to reel tape recorder. A week after this gig and I wanted to see them again and again, I want to go to every gig, become an uber fan, have Melody’s poster on my wall. (John Haylock)
Remember to tell us about your favourite gigs in the comment box below.
The Flaming Lips – is there ever anything bad to be said? True, lead singer Wayne does go on a bit with his Wayne Coyne world philosophy. True, once you’ve seen the confetti cannons, the dancing girls, the Zorb ball and lasers, they perhaps can never have the same impact as the first time you saw them.
But even so, is there anything more uplifting than the sky-soaring refrain of Race for the prize? I don’t think so. The Flaming Lips should be available on prescription to treat world depression, because I haven’t stopped smiling since.
This was my second live Lips experience and it was typically psychedelic, visually stunning, and Wayne’s “too-tight pants” were a spectacle in themselves. No Zorbing or dancing girls this time, but the light-show was outstanding.
However, he did start the night on a somber note before it even got started. During the sound check he acknowledged the cancellation of Monday night’s show (owing to him having a cold), but went on to talk about the tornado tragedy in the band’s native Oklahoma. About imagining knowing that your child was trapped in the rubble. About being aware that everything we were doing by being there last night was a bit ridiculous by comparison. But then, it was important too, these little bits of joy and music being the medium that can carry people through tragedy and troubled times. Ominously, the cannons, when they erupted, shot out not the glittery rainbow we’ve come to expect, but a black confetti instead (still cool).
Because of his cold, it was a raspy, coughing Wayne that took to the stage (and he is generally accepted to be a pretty bad singer anyway). They played quite a lot from the new album, The Terror, including ‘You lust’ and ‘Look…the sun is rising’. With a 30-year back catalogue to draw on, some old favourites included ‘The W.A.N.D’, a de-constructed ‘Race for the prize’, ‘Do you realize??’ ‘All we have is now’ and ‘One more robot/Sympathy’. They’ve also taken to performing Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ live recently, and it was a truly worthy rendition.
There was a nice moment during ‘Do you realize??’ when a coughing, faltering Wayne saw the audience taking over at the top of their lungs, sending the lyrics through the Roundhouse’s rafters. Wayne seemed genuinely touched, and declared that when the time came for the Spielberg-directed biopic, the moment would be recreated and exaggerated for the screen, but we will always be able to say ‘We were there, man!’. Maybe. We were also to tell everyone that it was the “most important show we’ve ever been to”. Probably not.
That said, I’m a fan and The Flaming Lips never disappoint. Even when Wayne’s is cuddling and kissing a slightly creepy baby doll on stage, I still want to live in a Flaming Lips world where being weird is the goal, the pursuit of happiness is a daily ambition, and everyone deserves a little joy.
With Olympic fever taking the UK by storm, we thought we’d run another of our topical top tens featuring our favourite indie and alternative Olympic and sporting themed tracks. Sit back, order a McDonalds, drink a Coca-Cola or other Olympic endorsed junk food product and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Olympic Songs
Honourable mentions: The National – Racing Like a Pro, Queens of the Stone Age – The Bronze, Guided By Voices – Keep It In Motion, LCD Sound System – Sound of Silver, The Decemberists – The Sporting Life, Beck – Loser.
Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers, Rob Finch, Vanessa Thompson, Barnaby Salton, Nick Parker and Leon Cox
We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this latest instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.
20. The Flaming Lips – Soft Bulletin
Soft Bulletin from 1999 marked a change of direction for The Flaming Lips from their experimental earlier albums to a more conventional rock sound. Although coming after Zaireeka, their four disc album to be played on four separate stereo systems simultaneously, arguably anything would have seemed conventional. ‘Race for the Prize’ and ‘Waiting for Superman’ are among many highlights on their ninth album Soft Bulletin, but perhaps our standout is ‘The Spark That Bled’, a perfect example of how the band managed to merge their sentimental charm with a psychedelic edge. This commercial direction for the band was to continue for the next two albums, with great effect on album number 10 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. By their 11th album At War with the Mystics this focus on pop music seemed a little tired and they made a welcome return to their experimental roots with the sprawling 2009 double album Embryonic.
19. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
On his first solo outing after splitting Whiskeytown Ryan Adams recorded a surprisingly honest and sensitive album considering his alt-country bad boy reputation. The album is a homage to the good and bad side of relationships, moving between celebratory and despairing over 15 brilliant tracks. After an opening conversation about Morrissey albums it kicks into the rollicking country-blues of ‘To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)’ before settling into a quieter acoustic feel for the remainder of the album (excepting the Stonesy ‘Shakedown On 9th Street’). Backed by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (two of the best players in rootsy Americana) the playing is never less than excellent and the singing (including duets with Emmylou Harris) is top notch throughout. Great singing and playing coupled with the best set of songs in Adam’s, never less than interesting, career add up to a great album.
18. Belle and Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap
For us aged, fey indie-kids at Neon Filler picking the best Belle and Sebastian is a tough call. Sometimes 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister is our favourite, other times Dear Catostrophe Waitress whets our appetitie. But after having a good trawl though their back catalogue in recent weeks the one we keep coming back to is their third album, 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap. The production is pitch perfect allowing the subtle instrumentation to work around lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s stories. There’s some great tunes as well. Among our highlights are the title track, ‘It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career’ and ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’. Guitarist Steve Jackson’s turn on lead vocals on ‘Seymour Stein’ is another highlight on this much loved album by this much loved band.
17. American Music Club – Mercury
Most critics name the previous American Music Club, Everclear, as the bands finest hour but we think that Mercury just pips it as the band’s true masterpiece. Mark Eitzel paints a pretty bleak picture lyrically on many of the songs here but his soaring vocals, lush instrumentation and warm production soften the blow. It is the most varied album of the bands career mixing slow paced ballads (‘I’ve Been A Mess’), indie pop (‘Keep Me Around’) and loose noise (‘Challengers’). Guitarist Vudi sounds like he is fighting the urge to let rip at all times, but it is this forced restraint that adds tension to the quieter songs. The album contains the bands greatest and best known song ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’, a deserving entry into the great American songbook. Eitzel is a confusing and oblique character, but anyone who writes a song with the title ‘What Godzilla Said to God When His Name Wasn’t Found in the Book of Life’ deserves our attention.
16. The Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree
The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle is a master story teller. On latest album All Eternals Deck the focus was on other’s lives, including Judy Garland and even Charles Bronson. But on 2005’s The Sunset Tree Darnielle looks to his own life with dramatic effect as he recalls his teenage years in an abusive home. Across the album these deeply personal tales chart his escape into a world of video games, music, drink, drugs and storytelling away from the grim reality of his homelife and his drunken step father. It’s harrowing stuff, but never depressing. The tracks from ‘Dance Music’ to ‘This Year’ are about survival and are full of hope. Final track ‘Pale Green Things’ provides a fitting conclusion with Darnielle recalling his step father’s death and remembering a rare nice day out at the race track. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.
The late Mark Linkous released four albums as Sparklehorse in his too-short life and Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot was a dazzling and mesmerising debut. Played largely by Linkous alone (with a handful of musicians including David Lowery in support) it is an eclectic, sad and beautiful collection. Despite moving between the soft elegance of songs like ‘Homecoming Queen’ to the catchy alt-rock like ‘Someday I Will Treat You Good’ and the dischord of ‘Tears On Fresh Fruit’ it always sounds cohesive and natural. Linkous came from a traditional folk background and moved into alternative rock music, the album suceeds in bringing these styles seemlessly together. This works perfectly on the banjo lead ‘Cow’ with the memorable refrain “Pretty girl, milkin’ a cow, oh yeah”.
14. REM – Murmur
Back in 1982 executives at record label IRS were keen to send their recent signing REM on the road to rock stardom. Only problem was that the band were having none of their methods. Shunning the label’s choice of producer Stephen Hague and pressure to incorporate guitar solos and synthesisers into their music, they instead wanted to create a timeless feel. With producer Mitch Easter, who had worked with the band on their first EP Chronic Town, on board the band managed to get free rein to turn the tracks they’d been touring for a year or so into the album they wanted. From start to finish this is packed with great tracks with first single ‘Radio Free Europe’, ‘Talk About The Passion’ and ‘Catapult’ among many highlights. Musically it’s a mix of The Byrds, particularly through Peter Buck’s guitar style, and Pylon, the eccentric new wave band from their home town of Athens, Georgia. REM’s approach was proved right in the end. Wthin a few months of its release they were well on their way to superstardom, supporting The Police at Shea Stadium and producing a fine run of commercially and critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
13. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings And Food
Picking the best Talking Heads album is tough, most of their albums (including either of their live albums) could claim a place in this chart. One of the most important American acts of the 1970s and 80s they mixed soul and funk influences into their jittery new wave sound. More Songs About Music And Food takes a measured step forward from their 1977 debut and embraces David Byrne’s interest in the people and landscape of middle-America.Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth provide a tight simple backing to the wired frontman and neat guitar interplay with Jerry Harrison adds texture to the bands sound.The album contains few of the band’s best known songs, only their cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ was a hit, but it is their most rounded collection. ‘Found A Job’ stands out in particular, with a great instrumental outro, and is as good a song as you’ll find by any of New York new wave acts.
12.Blondie – Parallel Lines
Has there ever been a better female fronted band than Blondie? In our ears and minds the answer is a clear ‘no’. Take Blondie’s third album, 1978’s Parellel Lines for example. It boasted a ker-ching making six singles among its 12 tracks. What’s more the album tracks that didn’t make it on to 7” were pretty fine too. Blending rock, new wave, and even disco on ‘Heart of Glass’, the tracks echo the sixties at times, such as on ‘Sunday Girl’. Under producer Mike Chapman it was musically inventive too, with the guitar work of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on ‘Fade Away and Radiate’ still capable of sending shivers down our spines to this day.
11. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
As the album opener ‘The Queen Is Dead’ kicks in with punchy bass and drums you are immediately aware you are listening to something pretty special, and equally aware that Morrisssey was wrong to dismiss the role of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce in the band. The Smiths were one of the most important bands of the 1980s and it is difficult to overstate tyhe fanatcism of their fanbase at the time. Morrissey is a fascinating figure and, like him or not, their has never been another singer like him and his lyrics are witty and erradite here. Jonny Marr shines on the album and the arrangements are uniformly excellent throughout, it is also a little surprising how subtle and restrained his playing in. Only ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ showcases his signature jangle and it isn’t until the end of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ that he lets rip (and then only for a short burst). ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is the highest peak on an album of peaks and deserves a place on every best of the 80s collection.
In December The Flaming Lips announced that would create a song a month in 2011. This would lead to a staggering total of 12 songs released in the year. Amazing…
The Flaming Lips
In 2009 Robert Pollard released 6 albums and 4 in 2010. Assuming he only releases 3 albums this year he will still be on an average of over 4 albums a year. His albums often have 15 to 20 tracks, but even if they only averaged 12 songs an album that means he releases something like 50 songs a year on average. That is more than 4 songs a month, every year.
So, the feat of releasing a song a month isn’t that impressive, and it isn’t even original. In 1992 The Wedding present released a single every month. Each single came out on limited edition 7″ vinyl and featured a cover version as a b-side. The singles all had accompanying videos and each one made it into the charts. This meant that they equalled Elvis Presley’s record of having 12 hit singles in a year. Which means that releasing 12 songs in a year dates back to 1957.
So, unless you are Kevin Shields, releasing a song every month of a year really isn’t something to shout about.
The industrious Darren Hayman
One person who has more right that most to be a bit miffed by the press that accompanied the Flaming Lips announcement is Darren Hayman. The former Hefner font-man (and Neon Filler favourite) is currently heading for the half-way point in his January Songs project. This project involves writing, recording and releasing a song every day in the month of January. That amounts to 31 songs in one month, which is a lot more impressive than The Flaming Lips January target of one song.
When Hayman started the project he said “They won’t all be good but some might be”, in reality the standard has been very high and the songs surprisingly varied. A range of instrumentation, collaborators and styles has made it an extremely enjoyable project to follow.
All the songs and videos (including daily video diaries) can be found on the website http://januarysongs.tumblr.com/. The songs are free to download for the first couple of days and will be available to buy after the project is completed.