The Flaming Lips have an ability to get right to your inner child – whether at their most wide-eyed, or exploring the darker side of life. That’s never truer than at their live shows – an audio-visual overload that temporarily reinserts a sense of wonder that as an adult you forget is possible.

I understand the criticisms against the band. I understand that to some, the Lips’ sound is grating and their live show is a gimmick. They divide my family and friends, and probably, most of them sit in the ‘hate’ camp. As a big fan of the band, even I find some of their work a little grating. But live, they can take me somewhere euphoric.

I’ve seen them several times, most recently on my honeymoon in San Francisco. It was great, but it didn’t live up to previous times I’d seen them. The visual was there, but the music – pulled for the most part from their recent album 'The Terror' – did not have the effect it usually did. As much as I like their new stuff (and the band were probably due a change in direction) it has lost a lot of the optimism that drove the uplifting effect the band can have on its audience.

The best time I saw the band was at Lovebox 2008. It was a warm day, and the anticipation of seeing the band for the first time had got me through a line-up of varying quality. As the day went on, it started dragging in anticipation of the headliners.

I had been a fan of the band since 'The Soft Bulletin'. The last album the band had released was 'At War With the Mystics', two years previously. This was the band’s last tour before a significant direction change on 'Embryonic' the following year. It was my last chance to see the band perform the show that brought them to a wider audience (though that wasn’t strictly true – I saw them play 'The Soft Bulletin' all the way through a couple of years later).

Whatever your opinion of Wayne Coyne, he is great at working up a crowd. During soundcheck, he’s always onstage, waving at the crowd, shooting confetti out of a colourful gun, throwing out a couple of balloons, giving everyone a taste of what is to come.

The band kicked off their set with 'Race for the Prize'; Coyne launched himself across the crowd in his infamous inflatable ball. The band throw everything at the opener, raining confetti and balloons down on the audience, fans in costume dancing at the side of the stage, lights and patterns streaming from the screens at the back of the stage, and a really big gong.

I’ve never felt so much energy and positivity emanate from a crowd as I did at that show. Everyone was smiling and considerate of other people around them, perhaps too enraptured by the show itself.

Coyne would not let the energy drop. Even a slight dip in energy would be met with a “C’mon, m**herfuckers! C’mon!” – Coyne has a habit of saying that a lot.

It sounds a little over the top, but there’s something about a great show by one of your favourite bands that can give you a warmth, a happiness, that you don’t get with anything else. It’s a combination of excitement, nostalgia, a sense of community, that no other art form can really give you. There are only three bands that have made me feel that way to an intense degree – the Pixies, Pavement and the Flaming Lips. But only the Lips have brought me to the brink of tears – tears of joy, it must be stressed.

One of my favourite moments of the Flaming Lips’ Lovebox set took place when the band had left the stage. The band always leave the stage to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’. This triggered an impromptu sing-along (probably not the only one that had broken out after a Lips show). We all sang as loudly as we could – it didn’t mind if people didn’t know all the words, or even the tune. It was just nice to feel that warmth, that childlike wonder, for just a little bit longer.









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Commenting On: (Gig of a Lifetime) Lovebox, London, July 2008 - Flaming Lips








ie London, England

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