Those who had filled the Green Man’s lush main stage field in anticipation of The Flaming Lips’ Saturday headline concert had done so under duress of some significant rainfall. Not the kind to relent after a mere day either, since festival goers had been allowed on site to pitch tents on Thursday, the rain had bucketed down. But by Saturday evening, the drenched attendees of this charming little festival were afforded some respite, as the downpour eased to a soft, lulling drizzle. It is worth noting the staggering beauty of Green Man’s main stage- set against the towering, endlessly rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons in the middle of a valley. The stage, placed at the foot of an ancient outdoor ampitheatre, lined ridges carved into a hill- providing a breathtaking view of the stage and surroundings.
What better setting for The Flaming Lips majestic live show? Surrealism doesn’t begin to describe it. Over the last ten years or so, or since Yoshimi Battled The Pink Robots brought them to proper European attention, the Lips have gained a reputation for staggering, bizarre, carnivalesque gigs- but of recent years many have argued that the necessity to fire a confetti cannon has superceded the need to play songs. 2006’s At War With Mystics suffered from that
outside perception, but 2009’s Embryonic was something of a rebirth- the band were raw, impassioned, and rediscovered the basic tenets of psychadelic rock with authenticity. It’s at this point in their career that The Flaming Lips are more than worthy of headlining a festival- and they don’t disappoint.
The gig began with a vision of a naked woman, radiating solar energy all around her. As she lay down, a bright ball of cosmic light pulsed from between her legs- and from this, the band emerged, all smiles and friendly waves to the crowd, who at this point had just lost it completely. Whilst lights and smoke enveloped the stage, the band rocked out to an instrumental jam as enigmatic singer Wayne Coyne stepped inside his inflatable ‘space-ball’ (think: hamsters) and rolled it toward the crowd. He made it from the stage to the sound desk, the crowd rolling him as he went, and back again to jump on stage for the opening number proper, ‘Silver Trembling Hands’, a bass led Embryonic number that riffed like a heavy duty machine as guitarist Steven Drozd scaled the heavens with shrieking stabs at his guitar.
Back in the day hit She Don’t Use Jelly went down spectacularly, spurring a huge singalong- but it was the double header of See The Leaves, a tragic paean to futility and strife, and it’s following number I Can Be A Frog, that encapsulated the gig’s inclusive, celebratory mood. At each respective call the entire audience responded in turn, “She said I can be a bear!/helicopter!/tornado!/monkey!” each line letting us act out those sounds- a memorable, transcendental moment that had us all acting like children. It was truly beautiful, especially having followed such a (wonderful) thrashy, minor key rock song.
Playing Do You Realize? as an encore was a masterstroke- it’s such a perfect pop song, at once uplifting, sad, both specific and open-ended. It’s euphoric chorus perpetually rising til a climactic, joyous crescendo as Coyne sang of a philosophy of kindness, love- with a crucial knowledge that ultimately, all of these precious moments are transient. And as the crowds departed the field, the rain began to fall.
None of really describes just how spectacular an experience a Flaming Lips concert is, let alone one in such an idyllic location. A stage full of dancers in gorilla costumes and orange jump-suits dancing blissfully throughout. Coyne’s giant hands, which eminated the most breathtaking laser-light show. The cerebral, friendly nature of the between-song banter, which had us all at one point coo-ing to the moon to beckon it from behind some ominous rain clouds. The blinding array of lights, smoke, confetti, cannons. The continual insistence on beauty, hanging out, freaking out. The Flaming Lips seem intent on assaulting every one of your senses and it’s a mindblowing experience- one that leaves you feeling invigorated, never more alive than in that moment. They offer a performance that elevates their records to near-religiosity; these are songs that scrape the sky and scream at the heavens, played in a way that celebrates humanity and togetherness. I can’t think of a finer way to conduct a festival headline set, and as the crowds dispersed late into the night, that feeling seemed universal.