Pop Live: Flaming hot - stage or not

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The Independent Culture

IT ALMOST comes as a disappointment to discover that The Flaming Lips' show involves instruments, an audience and a stage. This Oklahoma trio have been known to perform outside in parking lots with car stereos as their instruments.

Their most notorious show on these shores was last year's Boom Box Experiment where the band orchestrated a sea of customised tape recorders containing pre-recorded Flaming Lips tapes. The experiment culminated in a four-CD album, Zaireeka, the constituent parts of which are designed to be played simultaneously.

But just because the Lips have chosen to play on something as mundane as a stage doesn't mean they have lost any of their sparkling wit and invention.

You just know that a band who have come up with titles like "Kim's Watermelon Gun" and "Psychiatric Explorations Of The Fetus With Needles" are not about to climb wearily onto the straight and narrow.

If anything, they seem even more otherworldly amid such conventional surroundings, with their apocalyptic instrumentals and singer Wayne Coyne's woebegone vocals - like Neil Young singing underwater - rising from the stage like steam from a boiling pot.

Less an exercise in the outlandish, the show is about the culmination of ideas and, in Coyne's case, over 15 years of work.

As the sole survivor of the original line-up it is Coyne's febrile imagination that has sustained The Flaming Lips, chipping away at conventional recording methods and fanatically pursuing new sounds. This year they have finally found a wider audience with their 10th and magnificent LP The Soft Bulletin.

It is undoubtably the band's most accessible album to date - for a start you don't need four CD players to hear it - though it is still as bold and breathtakingly original as anything else they've done. Each song is full to bursting with emotional lyricism, backed by luscious horn and string arrangements and huge steam-rolling guitars.

Live, too, The Flaming Lips transport you to a world of stunning make- believe, where songs such as "Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World" are juxtaposed with heart-stopping renditions of "Over The Rainbow" and "White Christmas".

There are delights to be had from the small details. Backing vocals are sung through a megaphone, for instance, and throughout "What Is The Light?" and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," Coyne has a glove puppet mouthing the words. During the seismic "Gash," he throws handfuls of fake snow into the audience. Even the sight of Coyne drenched with fake blood, bashing a giant gong against a backdrop of disembodied figures sprouting surgical tubes doesn't fill you with horror.

There is no rhyme or reason to any of his antics except to demonstrate the band's endearing enthusiasm and bravura.

For Coyne and Co, it's simply part of a long tradition of experimentation where, in their working life at least, dream and reality are inextricable.