Review and photography by Helen Williams.

INNERCITY LIVE BIRMINGHAM comes to town, putting the senses into overload with a night of exceptional live music and extraordinary visuals with The Flaming Lips, plus special guests Public Service Broadcasting, Amber Run and Hoopla Blue.

A last minute venue change meant that The Flaming Lips’ massive bag of tricks had to be crammed onto the O2 Academy stage rather than being let loose in the Rainbow outdoor arena, but this would only served to multiply the grandeur. As I arrive, the photo pit is packed full of obstacles: two giant inflatable mushrooms, what looks like a horse swathed in tarpaulin, and row upon row of pressurised gas cylinders.

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It’s a little taste of the psychedelic treats in store for us. But first – Public Service Broadcasting take to a stage filled with laptops, wires, and keyboards and lead us on a meandering, mesmerising journey through time, down into coal mines, to the tallest peak on earth, and then all the way into space.

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They’re shy and reserved, with frontman J Willgoose even using a sampled voice to thank the audience and make a shout out to the city, but their performance is by no means soulless – all of the band members smile uncontrollably throughout, clearly loving what they do.

And the audience love them for it. The crowd is a real mixed bag – young, old, children, parents, teenagers who are clearly dressed for the outdoor rave they were hoping this would be (glittered faces and LED wearables everywhere): everyone is smiling, dancing, arms around each other.

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They play old classics like ‘Go!’, ‘Spitfire’ and ‘Gagarin’, and delve into their newer material from ‘Every Valley’ – an album based on the history of the Welsh mining industry. They have a talent for taking the ordinary and making it into something beautiful and profound. The instrumental tracks are accompanied brilliantly with corresponding archive footage on the huge displays at the back of the stage.


I’ll be honest – I only really came here to see Public Service Broadcasting. I was mildly curious about The Flaming Lips, – I’d heard they put on a pretty good live show, so I thought they could be fun to see.

I don’t think I was quite ready for them….

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Most bands bring out the confetti canons for the encore, but not these guys. With almost no warning or fanfare, frontman Wayne Coyne bounds on stage with his signature wild hair, UV painted nails, and newly acquired eye patch (from an eyelid injury a few months back), and after a brief chat with the audience the band burst into ‘Race For The Prize’, accompanied by hundreds of giant balloons bouncing around the room and more confetti than I’ve seen in my entire life.
For the next few minutes, it’s pandemonium (especially when you’re trying to take photos without getting a giant balloon or CO2 stream directly to the face – I failed on both counts, by the way).

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But as chaotic as it appears, this dramatic performance is run with theatrical precision. As suddenly as it began, the lights go down, and the ‘stage hands’ (dressed as superheroes, of course) pop all the balloons in the darkness and set up the next act. To accompany ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1’ we have, of course, an enormous pink robot which slowly inflates as Wayne sings to reach the height of the stage.

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Next up, the purpose of the horse I mentioned earlier becomes clear – it is in fact a life size unicorn, resplendent in multicoloured LEDs which Wayne now mounts and rides slowly through a sea of beaming faces and camera phones to the other side of the room, singing ‘There Should Be Unicorns’.

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But the audio-visual delights don’t end there. Before the night ends, we’re treated to a cover of ‘Space Oddity’ performed by Wayne crowdsurfing in a giant orb; a rendition of ‘The W.A.N.D.’ by two giant eyeballs; some more confetti (glitter this time); and finally, as Wayne shouts “If you think we’re finished, you got another thing coming!”, a huge rainbow inflates onstage to accompany the anthemic ‘Do You Realise??’
The whole thing is beautiful, insane, mesmerising, baffling, epic, silly, and stunning. From the middle of the crowd to the far corners of the room, everyone is singing, hugging, lifting their arms. I feel like I’ve just joined a cult, and I’m delighted about it.

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The band leave the stage and we stand dazed for a few minutes – even though they’ve been onstage for an impressive 90 minutes, the set feels far too short. As we filter out, it feels like awaking from a wonderful dream.
Check out more great pictures from tonight’s proceedings  on our Flickr page.

Public Service Broadcasting Setlist:
The Pit
People Will Always Need Coal
Signal 30
Night Mail
Korolev
They Gave Me a Lamp

Progress
All Out
Spitfire
Go!
Gagarin
Everest

The Flaming Lips Setlist:
Race For The Prize
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1
There Should Be Unicorns
Pompeii AM Gotterdammerung
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
How??
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Are You A Hypnotist??
The W.A.N.D.
A Spoonful Weighs A Ton
Do You Realise??

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