Rescheduled – The Flaming Lips ‘American Head’ tour at 02 Academy, Liverpool Thursday 26th May 2022

 

 

WORDS BY JANET HARDING / IMAGES WARREN MILLAR

 

‘It’s A Visual And Musical Spectacular Of Luminous Expression’

 

As the sun streams in through the windows of my train carriage on my way into Liverpool, I’m thinking about my night ahead. I’m looking forward to the spectrum of light, colours and sounds that the Flaming Lips are. A sunshine filled Liverpool is vibrant, it’s a stunning city and the perfect setting for such a high vibrational band as we’re going to see tonight. The Liverpool 02 Academy is a short stroll from Lime Street station and once we arrive we find there’s one massive queue! This American alt rock/prog rock/psych act sure have some following! It’s to be one hell of a show, the reputation for showmanship, epic production and a visual feast precedes them. This is to be no run of the mill performance.

Liverpool 02 Academy is a great live music venue, small enough, but big enough, attracting huge names from both the UK and globally. The stage, I’m guessing, isn’t sizeable enough for the usual Flaming Lips spectacular we’ve seen at the likes of Glastonbury, but I know it’s gonna be a no holds barred extravaganza anyway – although as we arrive at the barrier we’ve spotted huge bags full of canvas inflatables in the photo pit, so maybe it’s full effect after all? Either way we’re really looking forward to that famous neon, luminescent experience…and the lighting around this stage is something to behold!

 

Support – Heartless Bastards

Erika Wennerstrom, Dave Colvin, Jesse Ebagh, Mark Nathan

 

Hailing originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, now firmly based in Houston, Texas, there’s a rich mixture of sounds and genres from Heartless Bastards. Not to be sniffed at, this band have toured with the likes of Wolf Mother and have had tracks used in numerous TV shows including ‘Friday night lights’ and ‘Suits’…upon hearing them I can see why so many shows use their music…it’s so evocative and atmospheric.

tarting off acoustically, with front woman Erika strumming her guitar and singing, it feels very folk. Her voice is strong, definite, very individual…a huskiness… and the lyrics are powerful and captivating. Once the full band begin to join in, slowly at first, in lapping waves, then suddenly a crashing tidal wave of country rock and a real Americana feel engulfs us. Its full on, it’s really quite something. A very diverse sound, the stripped back acoustics have a Suzanne Vega feel to them (not in voice but in style) but other tracks have rich textures, multi layering, shimmering country feels. It’s guitar driven, spectacular instrumentals, classic rock, then blues sounding, all with clever drum beats at the heart. It’s a very clean, well rehearsed sound. With that huskiness in her voice, that delightful crackle, it’s really atmospheric and the instruments dramatically cement that sound and feel. Songs feel epic, huge. Erika explains she wrote some out in the west Texan desert and you can feel this inspiration, that singsong, southern drawl, sung with a real American accent which adds even more to the atmospheric feels. I’m getting real Twin Peaks feels – it’s glorious, it’s familiar…think Chris Izaac. It’s like a soundtrack from a Quentin Tarantino film.

A deliciously atmospheric, real all American sound, totally different to anything British. Brilliant set – had us glued to this performance. The band seemed fully immersed…lost in their own music! What a set!

 

 

The Flaming Lips – headline

Wayne Coyne – vocal, Steven Drozd – guitar/keys/bass/percussion/backing vocal, Matt Duckworth Kirksey – drum/keys/percussion, Nicholas Ley – drums/percussion, Derek Brown – keys/guitars/percussion

The excitement, for sure, is building. The vast array (and I do mean vast) of instruments on stage hints at what’s soon to come – we have 2 full drum kits for starters! Before long our enigmatic front man, Wayne Coyne, casually walks on stage to screams and wild applause. Looking every inch the rock god, dressed in steampunk suit with oversized white collar and cuffs, he explains a little about the first song. It’s with reference to birds, so he has a toy bird which he plans to fly out over us, and also talks about the recent pandemic and lockdowns. He encourages us to treat tonight as if it’s our last and says they intend to play like it’s their last as we just never know what’s to come. With this in mind, he releases the toy bird off over the sea of heads. It’s bright red and flutters and flits about over us, whirring as it goes. It’s fascinating…no music yet, but everyone is turning to watch where it flies. An audience member catches it and sends it back toward the stage, where our front man swiftly and expertly catches it.

The band arrives on stage and Wayne proceeds to enter an inflatable bubble whilst a sound tech fills it with air. He asks us to please listen intently as there are bird sound effects during the song, but he’ll indicate when we should go wild. With luminous lights ,dry ice and lasers, the set begins. It’s like being in the Age of Aquarius! Very hippy feels, it’s soft, mellow, light and melodic. Thousands of LED lights make up the backdrop and they twinkle with vibrancy in every colour possible. Huge lettering of each lyric flashes up at the back of the stage and masses of tube lighting adorn either side of the stage creating an LED light waterfall effect of dazzling colours. From his orb Wayne sings, the vocal is steady, light and clear, with a slight delay which really adds to the dreaminess. He signals to us that it’s now time to go wild… the crowd takes him at his word, and we go wild…as confetti cannons are fired, coloured foil tickertape rains down on us, whilst luminous lasers cut through dry ice and the LED lights glow in mesmeric fashion. It’s all encompassing, you can’t help but smile, it’s totally uplifting. The sounds are fizzing, dreamlike, effervescent, clear, glittering and shimmering, a real Coachella feel, but with electro and synth, a pulsating undertone and breathtaking drums…and a pounding bass leads the true soul of this music. Tonight’s event is part of the rescheduled tour to promote the release of latest album ‘American head’, Flaming Lips’ 16th album in a career spanning 4 decades.

Formed in 1983 in Oklahoma, their song ‘Do you realise’ has become the official rock anthem of the state. Famed for their luminescent, aesthetic, show production and visuals in album artwork, live shows and music videos, this band know how to fulfil every aspect of their expressive concept. Performing ‘Do you realise’ next, a huge canvas rainbow is inflated in the photo pit, framing the stage. Lighting flashes across the front edge of the stage in pixels of primary colours, whilst strobe lighting flashes, more confetti falls and Wayne continues to perform within his orb. It’s a visual and musical spectacular of luminous expression, honestly being in the midst of all this is truly beyond belief, and it’s very ‘other worldly’ or altered state. It feels good for the soul, it’s psychedelic feels. The rainbow is deflated and in its place appears Yoshimi, a huge white and glowing pink robot, Wayne encourages us not to be afraid, it’s just Yoshimi…I fear for my photographer, Warren Millar, in the photo pit…has he been consumed by high vibe inflatables? The images he’s captured are true testament to his skill as I can assure you he’s had his work cut out tonight – but for the best possible reasons, and he assures me he loved it! Streamers are now fired at us by Wayne, who is out of the bubble performing this track.

 

 

Yoshimi is packed safely away and the set continues. Our next surprise is when 14 year old Nell Smith is introduced on stage. Nell of course collaborated with Flaming Lips on the album ‘Where the viaduct looms’, an album consisting of 9 covers of Nick Cave songs, and well worth a listen. In stunning vintage satin dress and Dr Martin boots, Nell performs ‘Red right hand’ by Nick Cave, famously the peaky blinders theme tune. Its very well recieved. An expressive voice, full of depth and conveying real angst and grunge feels – well suited to the theme of this cover. Nell does an amazing job of making this legendary song her own, and with a song of this calibre, that’s no easy feat!

Well, I can honestly say this has been a night to remember. The overall feel has been of joy and happiness. It really did feel like, as a whole, the crowd took on that spirit of living life fully, of doing tonight like it was our last. The sounds have been inspirational, breathtaking, awe inspiring, the visuals engulfing, and the energies have been brilliant the entire way through. This kaleidoscopic, vibrant and psychedelic experience is one we’ll never forget. Thank you, Flaming Lips, for creating this wonderful world of heart warming goodness. It’s a concept that really works and as an audience we feel fully submerged. It’s been an utter privilege to be present and a part of this and, long may your luminous creativity rain down on us!

 

Set list:

1/ My Cosmic Autumn

2/ Do you realize??

3/ How??

4/ Yoshimi

5/ Mother I’ve taken LSD

6/ Ego Tripping

7/ Waitin’ for a Superman

8/ Always there in our Hearts

9/ Red right hand

10/ Jelly

11/ Dinos on the Mountain

12/ Moth in the Incubator

13/ Will you return?

14/ All we have is now

15/ Race for the prize

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Warren is a live music and festival photographer based in Cheshire and covers gigs/festivals mostly in the North West of England. He has been photographing live music for over 10 years and has covered major artists and festivals

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