The Flaming Lips, Brixton Academy, gig review: 'Anything but low key'

The single thing wrong with it all, really, is that it had to come to an end
  • @Tom_Mendelsohn

Flaming Lips shows always come with a certain amount of expectation attached. They’re most famous – aside from having released a decent handful of the best albums ever written – for their commitment to spectacle.

Whether it’s glittercannon and lightshows, having Justin Timberlake playing bass while dressed as a dolphin, or frontman Wayne Coyne wobble across the audience in his signature giant hamster ball, something elaborate is always on the cards.

Alas, there’s no giant hamster ball tonight. In fact, as the band walks on into low blue light and kicks off into the understated opening bars of early-ish song “The Abandoned Hospital Ship”, one might be forgiven for worrying it’s all going to be a bit, well, low key.

That fear lasts all of 90 seconds as the song and stage show burst into apoplexies of light, sound and colour – and dry ice and confetti by the bushel.

And by the second song – a bullish “She Don’t Use Jelly” – the audience is in outright singalong mode, while Wayne, wearing a muscle-patterned skintight bodysuit and a cape made of tinsel, scampers about like a revivified bodyworks exhibit with rather better hair.

Rainbows ripple up a back wall made of LEDs and back down industrial-grade fairy lights fronded from the ceiling, while giant inflatable aliens cavort around an increasingly crowded stage. Wayne sports a tinselled codpiece; low key it is anything but.

When we enter a 10-minute version of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1”, the deal is sealed, we’re in for a beautifully curated set of fan favourites. However, they still do have to fight the natural intransigence of a typical London crowd, which isn’t quite getting into things with the requisite gusto.

At one point, he even stops the song to lay down the law: if we don’t put more effort into making karate chop sounds, we will personally be letting him down. On round two, we elect not to let him down.

From here, it’s an excerpted schlep through the classics. We’re treated to an absolutely colossal rendition of “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, which is allowed the space to become the masterpiece of dreampop it’s meant to be. Songs from all eras are present, each as rapturously received as the others.

The band briefly channel their inner Trent Reznor during an incongruously malevolent version of “Look… The Sun Is Rising”; Wayne appears on a raised podium, cradling a doll for some reason which no doubt made sense when he thought of it, having also managed a sly costume change, now looking like Peter Pan might if he were a character in The Jetsons.

A special mention must go to the encores, as 5,000 people bathed in golden stage light belt out “Do You Realise”, before it all finishes with an almighty cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, and much, much more confetti.

The single thing wrong with it all, really, is that it had to come to an end.