Music review: The Flaming Lips, The Roundhouse, London


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The Independent Culture

"I feel a whole lot better," maintains a hoarse Wayne Coyne, apologising for being too ill to play the previous day's cancelled concert before informing us that "being sick is pretty petty" compared to the tornado disaster in Oklahoma, his home state. It is. He goes on to admit that "this is kind of a ridiculous event". It's certainly an odd event.

"Love is always something/ Something you should fear," laments Coyne on opener "Look... The Sun Is Rising", a gloomy, cluttered electronica dirge from their latest, determinedly experimental record, The Terror, and a track that sets the tone for the night. The space-rockers, now in their 30th year, are in a reflective disposition and their usually chipper frontman, judging from his doom-laden lyrics, is not only ill but in turmoil and a confessional mood. "Some of these new songs aren't that good," he admits.

It feels more like a group therapy session than the giddy, psychedelic performances of old. Gone are the giant space-balls cartwheeling through the audience, the animal costumes, inflatable dolphins, Martians, catfish and so on, replaced by haunting mantras, discombobulating and overwhelming strobe lighting and, well, nihilism. A bleakness summed up on their second glum track  here, "The Terror", on which Coyne maintains "However long they love you, we are all standing alone/ The terror's in our heads, they don't control the controls."

The older anthems, such as the stirring "All We Have Is Now", from 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and "Race for the Prize" from their 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, are greeted by their devotees like returning war heroes. Savoured and cherished before the Oklahoman quintet pound us with the sonic distortion of new tracks "Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die" and the menacing "Turning Violent", on which Coyne repeatedly drones "Turn on and on".

The Flaming Lips, a ubiquitous festival act in the early Noughties and sort of the US equivalent of the Super Furry Animals, always tend to lighten the mood with a cover and this time it's a dazzling take on David Bowie's "Heroes". It's a highlight tonight, as is their sumptuous  anthem "Do You Realise", on which the audience touchingly take over vocal duties when Coyne has a coughing fit. Communally singing "Everyone you know someday will die" feels oddly uplifting.

"We really do love you," Coyne croaks before thanking us for putting up with "these strange new songs". Judging from the audience reaction, they're loved in return - but bring back the inflatable dolphins please...