Flaming Lips, Nottingham Rock City, 21 January 2003.

1. If I’d known that British Sea Power were the support act, I would have got to the venue a whole lot earlier. As it was, we arrived just in time for their final number. It was…noisy. And that is all I can meaningfully say about them. Most frustrating.

2. No doubt as part of their whole “deconstructing the mystique of performance” schtick, the Flaming Lips helped their own road crew build their set, with the lighting turned right up on the stage. Well, most of the band helped out, at any rate. Singer Wayne Coyne mainly confined himself to rather self-consciously wandering on and off stage, occasionally throwing cheery little waves towards the audience. However, he never actually seemed to do much. He killed quite a bit of time by making tiny little adjustments to his mike stand, and seemingly by checking the stage for uneven floorboards (an all too often overlooked duty, I’m sure). But really, he was just making a great show of looking busy, to cover up for the fact that he wasn’t actually contributing a great deal. As a seasoned practitioner of this strategy myself, who has come to rely upon it to get him through most of his daily life, I can suss out a fellow traveller in an instant.

3. While this procedure was taking place, I was slightly surprised to spot someone standing right in the middle of the crowd on the main floor, dressed in a full rabbit costume: thick grey fur, floppy ears, whiskers, the lot. Not the most practical of outfits for a sweaty venue like Rock City. I came up with four possible reasons for this:

i) My lemonade had been spiked, possibly by someone who had grown tired of my incessant paeans to the glories of an alcohol-free lifestyle. After all, there’s nothing quite like the evangelical zeal of the newly converted. Who could blame them?

ii) One of the Moldy Peaches was in the audience.

iii) Jolly undergraduate jape, possibly for chari-dee.

iv) Man in rabbit suit deliberately planted in audience by Flaming Lips in order to freak people out, in a further act of radical post-modernist deconstruction etc. etc.

So iii) then, obviously.

Turning around a few minutes later to survey the crowd, I then noticed that the guy behind the mixing desk was dressed as a tiger.

So iv) then. My goodness!

4. When the Flaming Lips re-emerged on stage for the gig proper, all the band except Wayne Coyne had changed into animal costumes: giant heads, the lot. They were joined by a couple of extras standing at each side of the stage in rabbit costumes (aha!), jiggling around to the opening number (a soaring Race For The Prize) and shining flashlights directly into the crowd. The giant bunnies then steadfastly kept this up for the whole of the rest of the set.

Simultaneously, a vast quantity of giant (and I do mean giant) inflated balloons were released into the crowd, bearing messages such as “Happy Birthday!” and “Get Well Soon!” These were bounced around above people’s heads until they eventually burst. The last giant balloon didn’t burst until at least halfway through the set.

5. Standing more or less stock still in the back left hand corner of the stage, and – once again – remaining there all the way through the gig: none other than Santa Claus himself. The real Santa Claus, that is. Guess he’s got to do something to occupy himself during the January lull, right?

6. Wayne Coyne still does that thing with the glove puppet in the shape of a nun. And the blood on the head.

7. At this stage in their career, they really don’t need to keep playing She Don’t Use Jelly any longer. Its dopey college-boy wackiness now sounds completely at odds with the rest of the band’s material. In any case, it was never a hit in the UK, and most of the audience probably don’t even recognise it.

8. With Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots currently sitting at #18 in the UK singles charts (yes – it really is!), the Flaming Lips are doing Top Of The Pops this week. They told us that they wanted to use the opportunity to name someone from the audience on national television. They chose someone called Patrick. We shall discover on Friday whether they have kept their word. Remember: the name is Patrick.

9. Not being a particularly huge fan, I had always assumed that the Flaming Lips specialised in rather dry, oblique, conceptual pieces about mathematicians and robots and stuff. I was quite wrong. Loads of their stuff is charmingly, unpretentiously, joyously life-affirming. In this respect, Do You Realise? was particularly striking. Directly followed by Waitin’ For A Superman, this was the central highpoint of the night for me.

(9.5. The Polyphonic Spree really do owe these guys an immense creative debt, don’t they?)

10. As far as I was concerned, the band completely blew their encore with a tortuously drawn-out version of Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon – one of their more, um, minimal pieces. God, I thought it would never end. I like to think I have a healthy capacity for all things Prog – but this was simply too Prog by half. I was therefore fairly astonished when Stereoboard later told me it was his favourite tune of the night. This simply confirms what I already knew – namely that Stereoboard will always be more Prog than I could ever hope to be.

(For a different view of the same gig, take a look at this review on BBC Nottingham.)

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