The Flaming Lips – Live Review – Zebedee’s Yard, Hull
By Roger Crow, June 2017
When I first heard the track ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ in 2002, it was a no-brainer. I had to buy The Flaming Lips’ namesake album. Finally there was a band making music I wanted to hear. Manga-inflected with lashings of humour. That’s where my love affair with the group began. So when offered the chance to see them at Zebedee’s Yard in Hull, I don’t need asking twice.
My last gig in the City of Culture had been Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Despite an outstanding set from them, that had been marred by dreadful seats (as far from the stage as possible with a restricted view), then better seats to the side of the stadium. Alas, it felt removed from the gig. (If you can’t feel the vibrations in your chest, you may as well be watching on TV).
Thankfully this is a more intimate venue, with two of my favourite support acts. I’ve missed local band Fonda 500 who are first on, but Dutch Uncles and Public Service Broadcasting are both outstanding.
My energy starts to wane by the time The Flaming Lips start setting up. After three hours of standing, little wonder. I’d seen their set at Glastonbury gig the night before, and it felt awkward. Frontman Wayne Coyne having to work the crowd harder, probably because energy had been diverted to Radiohead’s set on a neighbouring stage.
Back in Hull, it’s the Oklahoma band’s first performance in the city, and Coyne infuses a new wave of oomph into the masses. Arriving on stage, he works the crowd into a frenzy of positive energy. Wayne reminds me of a cross between Bugs Bunny in classic cartoon What’s Opera Doc?, Reinhardt (the bad guy) from Disney’s The Black Hole, and random comic book characters. His red suit, black rabbit’s tail, glittery eye patch and shock of salt and pepper hair is a sight to remember.
For the next hour or so, he proceeds to dominate the night, along with some hilarious props. A couple of folks dressed as eyeballs dancing with an inflatable mouth are dazzlingly brilliant, as are the supporting stars (a huge frog, star-man and fish guy in a captain’s uniform) in a gobsmacking rendition of ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 2’.
One standout, and there are many, is the band’s rendition of ‘Space Oddity’, which strikes a chord given Mick Ronson’s connection to Hull. Coyne in a huge, transparent inflatable ball surfing over the crowd like a giant hamster is an experience I’ll never forget. His face grinning down at us through plastic feels like I’ve been transported to the set of Barbarella or some other kitsch sci-fi classic.
No matter how prepared I think I am for pushing him over my head, it still takes my breath away. The fact everyone knows the lyrics to ‘Space Oddity’ connects us all. Few bands seem better suited to belt out a Bowie masterpiece. ‘Do You Realise?’, one of their most famous numbers, also goes down a storm. Not that attendees need to be fans of the band.
My partner Rachel had never heard their music until I showed her the Glastonbury set this morning, and as a seasoned gig-goer, she ranks Hull’s glorious assault on the senses as a favourite.
One of the many highlights is high-fiving the charismatic frontman as he rides a unicorn through the crowd, both of us beaming like kids on Christmas morning. It’s one of the greatest concerts Hull has witnessed, especially in a year when it’s been host to so many staggering sights and sounds.
It might have been The Flaming Lips’ first gig in the city, but given the glorious reception, I doubt it’ll be the last. A stunning (rain-free) night in a terrific setting with some superb bands. It doesn’t get much better than this.
As I remind my legs how to walk after five hours of standing, there’s nothing but positive reviews from everyone around me. We entered Wayne’s gloriously bonkers, Technicolor world for a short time, and it proved an unforgettable journey.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for a return trip.