The Flaming Lips @ Hamer Hall

Balloons, confetti, inflatable pink robot and psychedelic light show aren’t things you normally associate with the good old respectable Hamer Hall, but for a couple of hours it got transformed into a kids’ party for adults and fun was had by all.

This concert celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Flaming Lips’ landmark record The Soft Bulletin, with the album performed in its entirety. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of the whole “let’s play an album live from start to finish” concept. There’s an inevitable sense of predictability to the show with the songs all locked into place, and the albums are rarely structured to make for an effective live setlist. Also, while I like The Soft Bulletin it’s not what I’d call a big personal favourite in their discography. But I really didn’t want to miss the chance to see these wonderful weirdos from Oklahoma after I had such fantastic time at their show almost ten years ago; it forever remained in my memory as a colourful and joyful experience that made me feel like a child again.

I left home with what I thought was plenty of time, but of course it got swallowed by the terrible city traffic, so when I finally made it to the Arts Centre they were shepherding everyone in with the last call reminders. There was no warm-up act and everyone barely had a chance to get comfortable in their seats before the band graced the stage, led by the ringmaster Wayne Coyne. He looked exactly as I remembered him from the last time, like a kindly eccentric uncle with crazy wild hair who might secretly be a wizard. He would have none of that boring sitting down business, encouraging the audience to get up on their feet and cheer; the reserved Melbourne crowd did their best to comply.

The show kicked off in a grand manner with Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and then the band launched into the opening track Race for the Prize as confetti and giant baloons were fired into the hall. But forget the balloons, how many bands go to the trouble of ordering a custom-made inflatable sign just for our city? Now that’s special.

The Soft Bulletin is a pretty melancholy album overall so you’d think that a lull was inevitable, but Coyne urged the audience to help them out by keeping the energy levels up, joking that they could stay silently appreciative at every other gig for the rest of their lives, but just not this one. The eye-popping psychedelic light show also livened things up considerably; I thought their last concert was pretty spectacular but they really outdid themselves this time around.

After the last notes of The Soft Bulletin rang in the air and the formal part of the evening was over and done with, the band could play more loosely during the encore, dipping into their most successful album and my absolute favourite, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Speaking of pink robots…

It wasn’t all party time though, with the band paying a touching tribute to the recently departed Daniel Johnston with a gorgeous rendition of True Love Will Find You in the End.

Of course there was only one song you could close the show with, the happy-sad Do You Realize?? which pretty much encapsulates the euphoric nature of The Flaming Lips live show. With more confetti and an inflatable giant rainbow, this was the perfect ending to the concert.

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