Stepping into a half empty Alexandra Palace, due in part to the early start of tonight’s show, Deerhoof are instantly up against it. With the audience in party mode larking about with the balloons that Flaming Lips have installed in the arena Deerhoof struggle to retain the attention of all but their most ardent fans as they blitz through their 2004 album Milk Man. On any other night their angular pop-punk would find a spellbound audience, but tonight they don’t get the engagement they deserve.
Dinosaur Jr has a more receptive audience as they roar into Freak Scene, the bone fide classic opener from their career defining album Bug. J Mascis’ guitar is brutal and urgent, at odds with his barely audible vocals. Bug may well be over 20 years old, but it still sounds as potent as it did when it was released back in 1988. Tonight, if anything these familiar songs sound more aggressive and bullish then they did all those years ago. Mascis’ solos cut through the arena like a haze of acidic wasps whilst drummer Murph is in thunderous form. Post is still heartbreaking but seems more muscular and aggressive than its recorded counterpart and the finale of Don’t is a phenomenal exercise in organised chaos and bellowing.
Finally it’s the turn of The Flaming Lips to show once again why they’re the best live band on the planet. As usual Wayne Coyne takes to the stage in his purpose built hamster ball, and rolls into the audience as confetti rains down, streamers fill the air, and giant balloons cascade down. It’s like a kid’s party in a lava lamp. For a few moments it’s a sensory overload, and almost possible to forget that there’s actually any music being played at all.
For the first three songs (Race For The Prize, A Spoonful Weighs A Ton and The Spark That Bled), Flaming Lips are incredible, the embodiment of poignancy and spectacular theatre. However the format of Don’t Look Back hampers them as the show progresses. Whilst The Soft Bulletin is a phenomenal record it is at times a little introspective and needs to flow. As such, the show suffers somewhat from not being able to change gears at will and rejuvenate the party atmosphere generated by their extravagant entrance. Wayne Coyne too seems a little out of sorts, admitting that the album is emotionally charged for him as he constantly seeks to apologise for his self-diagnosed poor performance. His worrying is misplaced, as during the songs, he’s in fine form although his inter-song rambling disrupts the band’s flow and causes The Soft Bulletin’s relatively short running time to stretch way beyond the hour mark.
Despite these misfires, there are still tremendous highlights, Waiting For A Superman in particular is wonderfully realised while the emotional closing duo of Feeling Yourself Disintegrate and the instrumental Sleeping On The Roof keep the atmosphere charged and showcase what wonderful musicians and songwriters the band are.
They encore with Do You Realize? a song that can make even the most emotionally stunted weep within seconds. It is surely this generation’s God Only Knows and still makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention.
This may not have been The Flaming Lips’ finest show, but the connection that the band forms with the audience is undeniable. Even when they’re slightly off form, they’re still one of the best live bands on the planet, and with material like this, they could never really go wrong.