The Flaming Lips didn’t disappoint with Cambridge Junction gig
Hottest evening of the year or not, the chance to see The Flaming Lips – a band more used, these days, to headlining festivals and playing to crowds in their thousands – at the 800-capacity Junction was one not to be missed.
And oh boy, did they not disappoint. Although the show was billed beforehand as one that would showcase material from their 2017 album Oczy Mlody what we in fact got was a near-replica of one of their legendary festival sets, with shimmering, life-affirming hit after hit.
From the off, this was a show that glistened with euphoria, while the rapt audience glistened with sweat and the glittering ticker-tape that was thrown towards them, in fistfuls, at regular intervals. Opening with the beautiful Race for the Prize (surely only this band could make a song about research scientists so thrilling and moving); before we were half way through that first song the room was awash with streamers, huge multi-coloured balloons and a massive inflatable silver sign.
An extraordinary front man, Wayne Coyne – a benign pirate, a psychedelic ringmaster in powder blue suit, his cheekbones accessorised with sparkling gems, his eyes with a matching sparkle of mischief and joie de vivre – tirelessly worked the crowd, his unique, quavering voice capturing the insanity, sheer joy and nihilistic wisdom of the band’s songs. It’s quite the catalogue, and we were very much treated to its highlights, from a storming Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (complete with floor-to-ceiling inflatable pink robot accessory, and coordinated “karate chop” hand actions from the crowd) to a wonderful rendition of 1993 singalong treasure She Don’t Use Jelly, and the moving, heartfelt likes of The Castle and The Captain.
By the time, mid set, Coyne temporarily disappeared stage-right, only to reappear in the middle of the crowd on a life-size illuminated unicorn, we were all so assimilated into the show’s wonderful/crazy atmosphere that this seemed a perfectly rational (if fabulous) development. This was definitely Wayne’s world now.
How on earth to follow this? Well how about a crowd-surf, inside a transparent balloon, while singing a version of Space Oddity that even a Bowie fanatic like me could not find a single fault with? *checks notes* Yes, of course that happened, too.
But what makes a Flaming Lips show so truly special is not simply the spectacle – the balloons, the unicorns, the glitter and the lights, like the kind of pop show you would get if you asked a guileless six year old to design it – but it’s the warmth, the feeling, the sunny and life-enhancing philosophy that is embedded in the band’s songs, and their beautiful front man’s between-songs words.
Before they leave the stage, as a gigantic rainbow inflates before the set-closer Do You Realize??, Coyne shares with us the story of a previous show where the inflatable seemed to be failing, and turns it into a metaphor for positivity and trusting in the eventual prevailing of good. It sounds crazy, it sounds like a stretch but – like so much with this band – it had such a core of beauty and truth that it was compelling, convincing and inspirational.