Reviews

The Flaming Lips + The Go! Team

Chris Gray

Queens and Fallen Kings: A Royal Evening with the Flaming Lips.

The Flaming Lips + The Go! Team

The Flaming Lips + The Go! Team

City: London
Venue: Royal Albert Hall
Date: 2006-04-22

In 1867, Queen Victoria commissioned London's Royal Albert Hall in the hopes of exposing her subjects to high culture. Nearly a century and a half after she laid its foundation stone (and moments before the sold-out Flaming Lips show there was set to begin), a young American guy stood on its front steps holding a very different kind of court: "I saw Phish here in, like, '97," he said. One of the gaggle of smokers replied, "Nooooooo waaaaaaaaaaaay..." Phish probably isn't what came to mind when Victoria thought of broadening the minds of her subjects. But, then, Albert Hall isn't as suited for the classical musical performances she must have envisioned. From the beginning the building's interior acoustics laughed back echoes of the sounds produced within. The problem wasn't solved until 1969, when, just a few years after the Beatles played there on a double bill with the Rolling Stones, 135 glass fiber 'mushrooms' were hung from its ceiling to absorb the stray sound. I had a good view of these mushrooms from my standing-room-only perch in the gallery, the highest spot in the hall. They looked incongruous with the refined Wedgewood-esque veneer of the place, but totally in keeping with the twin drum kits waiting below on stage with "GO!" written on the kick-drum faces. I asked an English teen standing beside me if he knew who was opening. He turned to ask his friend and reported back, "The Go! Team," with a shrug.


The Flaming Lips
multiple songs MySpace
The Albert Hall was only half full when the Go! Team scampered onstage and wrenched up a squall even the shrooms couldn't temper. A song or two in, the kid next to me corked his ears with his index fingers. Things weren't going much better with the people on the floor. Singer, Ninja, danced her way through the entire set and even threw in a little Irish jig, but these antics inspired about as much adulation as a spot of decaf Tetley. When they were through, I asked a middle-aged guy behind me what he thought. He said he liked them, then asked, "Are they American?" "English," I answered. "Hmph," he replied, screwing up his face into a surprised look. And what did he think of the sound? "Dreadful," chimed his wife. He nodded in agreement and then elaborated: "A friend of mine saw Cream from up here, and he said the sound was so bad it almost wasn't even worth coming." Good luck, then, that we had a visual-heavy performance to look forward to. My new friend said he'd heard Lips frontman Wayne Coyne usually started their shows by rolling around in a giant plastic bubble, and he hoped he'd see it tonight. And, as soon as the Lips came out with their entourage of superheroes, Santa Clauses, and aliens, that's exactly what he got. As the crowd passed Coyne around, the other Lips wound up before a giant projector screen that was glowing with At War With the Mystics animation. The air swooned with noise as Coyne wrestled out of the bubble. Huge white balloons, tucked behind the stage, trembled. Coyne was at the mic. The stage darkened. The noise swelled. And then Coyne flung up a rope light above his head, and confetti, lights, balloons, aliens, Santas, and the crowd all exploded rapturously skyward as the Lips released the notes to "Race For the Prize". Afterwards, Coyne gave a little speech -- only part of which was intelligible up in the gallery -- thanking whomever for letting the Flaming Lips play in such an "historic and elegant" venue. Cheers erupted. A few from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots kept everyone dancing until Coyne paused again to thank the English, with their "gentle and progressive approach to new music", and for "making the Flaming Lips what they are". More cheers. And then later on, out of nowhere, Coyne said something about "Bush" and boos filled the hall. He went on, cursing "this stupid war, Bush and Blair, conservative religious fanatics", was cheered again, and then led the Lips into a nice close with "Do You Realize?" Back for the encore, Coyne introduced the last song as one "... before the war started... angry... haven't played it in a year and a half..." and started it up. The screen behind the band flashed head shots of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush. No one danced. Band and film played on. And when it was over, we all left much more quickly and quietly than we'd come.

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