Photos: Tim Ferguson

As you may well know, ATP have been doing a number of Don't Look Back events, where legendary bands play through their most loved, and timeless albums. A lovely idea, I'm sure you'll agree, and one we can all get behind. The Soft Bulletin, by The Flaming Lips, is an album which I have always loved, and thus I had great enthusiasm to see it played in it's entirety. ATP were more than happy to indulge the desires of all and tasked The Flaming Lips with playing the album at Alexandra Palace on the 1st of June. Also in attendance were the fantastically influential Dinosaur Jr. playing through Bug, and the enigmatic Deerhoof playing through Milkman. Nobody can place any doubt upon the pedigree of these bands, and as such the beautiful Alexandra Palace was filled with excited indie types paying forty odd pounds to see what they hoped could be the show of the year.

Preceded by a waving Wayne Coyne, Deerhoof sauntered on to the stage. The band now have ten albums under their belts, and more experience than most bands on the scene, but compared to The Flaming Lips and Dinosaur Jr they certainly seemed like the babies of the trio. They looked the part too, thin and angular, earnest faced and comfortably odd. When they started playing a duality became clear. Deerhoof are both have the depth of experience to play their music perfectly, and the ever-youthful energy to jump about like loons while doing it. Throughout their set, Deerhoof impressed me partially with what they were playing, but mainly with the seer bombastic spirit with which they played it. Frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki was particularly impressive. Springing a impressive little dance move for nearly every lyric she sang, and managing to completely dominate the stage, despite being really quite tiny. Greg Saunier on drums was also awe inspiring to watch, managing to have just about the least fluid style I've ever seen, flailing about, and yet managing to play some pretty impressive stuff.

Milkman, as an album, leant it's self fairly well to the format. It was certainly played perfectly, and songs such as 'Giga Dance' and 'Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain' came across particularly well. It was over all too quickly though, and I'm not really sure how viable 'Dog on the Sidewalk' is as a song, let alone something to be performed live. But the fact how quickly the set flashed before my ears is testament to quite how enjoyable Deerhoof were. They more than held their own with the other two bands, and demonstrated what a formidable live act they are.

After a refreshingly short wait Dinosaur Jr. arrived, looking somewhat old and wise compared to Deerhoof. They launched into Bug without a word, and they were impressive from the beginning. Any band can create noise, but it takes somebody special to create something that sounds quite that good. They could have been somewhat louder, as although they wonderful, they weren't quite as deafening as I had expected them to be. Bug is without a doubt a brilliant album, and it came across particularly well live, the songs sounded noisy, but still tuneful and they had most of the audience singing along to some degree.

J Mascis remained stoic, like some sort of distortion wizard throughout, but Lou Berlow and Merph created more than enough energy to counterbalance his lack of. Dinosaur Jnr were without a doubt enjoyed by all, and for good reason. A vastly experienced live act, who have more then enough left in the tank to play a very good show.

Dinosaur Jr

The Flaming Lips had a lot of equipment to set up, and thus took a very long time to start playing. But, with the entire band wandering around the stage, and Wayne Coyne interacting with the crowd, the band managed to make the wait somewhat enjoyable. Eventually, Wayne made the first of many speeches to the crowd. Wisely employing us to not look at strobe lights if they made us uncomfortable, and talking a bit about what he felt about the album. A nice touch, maybe, but it went on a little bit too long. He then climbed inside his bubble, and the giant screen behind him began to play a video of a topless woman dancing around, while pre-recorded music played. As Wayne Coyne began to inflate, a door opened in the screen and the band climbed out one by one, announced as they entered by first to arrive Steven Drozd. They then began to play the special “Wayne Coyne is getting in his bubble, and trundling across the crowd” music, and Wayne did as instructed. It's such a barmy, exciting thing to do, that pretty much everybody in the audience couldn't help but be caught up in the whole excitement and spectacle of this opening. The band climbing through a screen was wondrous, and the bubble enclosed Wayne certainly knew how to get everybody up for the gig.

But still, we had come to see the band play, and dutifully they began with the opening of 'Race for the Prize' and Alexandra palace erupted in chaos. Confetti exploded out of cannons, Wizard Of Oz themed dancers flooded on to the stage and dozens of balloons were released into the audience. It was a overwhelmingly grand opening, and anybody familiar with the Flaming Lips' live set will know why. I wanted to look at everything at once because it was all so exciting, but it's impossible. Senses are overwhelmed by a desire to listen to the music, marvel at the confetti, push the balloons into the air, and jump about with the rest of the crowd. The audience and I surrendered ourselves to the pure show of delight the band had put on, and it was amazing. Naturally the band couldn't retain the same level of energy throughout, but the show remained a spectacle. I could endlessly describe all the little touches Wanye puts into his performance as a front man that make it quite so special, but I doubt anybody has any interest in reading for quite that long. The Flaming Lips performance is one of an imagination allowed to run wild, and it's hard to think how any band could quite hit their level of spectacle.

Flaming Lips

We all know how good an album The Soft Bulletin is, and the band played it without a hitch. Everything sounded pretty much as it should have done, and each song worked very well performed live, despite Wayne's voiced concerns. Lyrics were occasionally sang slightly off the timing they appear on record, which made the mass sing along everybody in the audience was keen for somewhat difficult, but there were no other issues with how the record was performed.

However, Wayne Coyne talked too much. While it is nice to see a band interact well with their audience, it was taken too far. I can't believe anybody had any interest in hearing 5 minute speeches about nothing in particular, or how the Flaming Lips audiences is the best audience ever because of fairly universal reasons. What Coyne was saying was nice, but not particularly revolutionary, or anything we hadn't already heard a million times before. The constant shouting of “Come on motherfuckers” to already excited and active crowd was also unnecessary. It pains me to say this, but Wayne Coyne was verging on annoying throughout the evening. While his performances while playing left nothing to be desired, I think the audience would have preferred a little less conversation, and a slightly longer encore.

In essence though, this was a fantastic gig, and the rapturously played encore of 'Do You Realize' reinforced quite how good a live band The Flaming Lips are. Very much worth the high ticket price, possibly even without the wonderful Deerhoof and the brilliant Dinosaur Jr. It is just difficult to shake the feeling that the gig could have been even better if the Flaming Lips spent a little more time playing. The play through of The Soft Bulletin did not feel like an airing of a cohesive work simply because the breaks between the songs began to outlast the songs themselves. This was a shame, but far from crippled anybody's enjoyment of the evening. A possible contender for gig of the year, even with the problems considered.


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Dinosaur Jr

Flaming Lips

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