Since being officially ordained in January as this year’s UK City of Culture, Hull has already put on a spectacular programme of events, including numerous exhibitions, debates, films, illuminations, installations, art, theatre, ballet and music. Each and every one of them characterised by immense creativity, vibrancy, dynamism and innovation and capturing the indomitable spirit and ambition of this great city. But they would all be very hard pressed to match tonight’s performance by The Flaming Lips for sheer extravagance, experimentalism and downright wackiness.
During the course of what is a wonderfully pulsating set – where both strangeness and the sublime routinely collide – we are treated to an avalanche of confetti, glitter, and balloons plus the rather bizarre sight of the Oklahoma City adventurers’ frontman Wayne Coyne first riding into the crowd astride a neon-lit unicorn before later rolling across their outstretched hands in a gigantic hamster ball whilst singing ‘Space Oddity’. It is one helluva psychedelic pop party.
But before we even get to any of this sonic and theatrical weirdness, there is the no little matter of rousing sets from local legends Fonda 500 and the Salford’s art-rock phenomenon that is Dutch Uncles whose uniform sporting of shades for the occasion owes much more to the glorious sunshine that is pouring into Zebedee’s Yard – a delightful 2000 square metre enclosed space which is set in the very heart of Hull’s historic Old Town and surrounded by a range of listed buildings – than it does any particular nod towards pretension or being cool.
And then there is Public Service Broadcasting. They emerged a few years back amidst a blur of information films, retro-futuristic electronica and a deeply conservative public image of corduroy and bow-ties. Their debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain was followed in 2015 by The Race for Space, another record concentrating upon human achievement, only this time focussing upon the US-Soviet space race between 1957 and 1972. In a marked change, their new album Every Valley concentrates upon the eradication of the Welsh coal industry and the consequent devastation wreaked upon local communities.
We get music from all three records tonight – ‘Go!’, about the successful 1969 moon landing is euphoric and the closing ‘Everest’ is as noble and powerfully moving as ever – but it is the new material that highlights Public Service Broadcasting’s emerging political engagement and their ongoing sonic evolution. Inspired by Kraftwerk, ‘Progress’ does capture an unquestionable sense of nostalgia, but it also speaks of hope for future generations.
Having just made their way from Somerset to the East Riding of Yorkshire, The Flaming Lips may well replicate the set they had played the previous night on the Park Stage at Glastonbury but such is the energy and passion that they invest in the performance they could well be playing these dozen songs for the very first time. And for all that you can get hopelessly lost in the overblown lysergic theatricality and manic playfulness of the show, these are still majestic, magical pop songs.
The introduction to ‘Race For The Prize’ with Coyne – dressed in a bright red suit, fake diamonds encrusted around one eye, a patch covering the other and looking for all the world like a cross between some intergalactic dandy and Snake Plissken – furiously orchestrating his band with back turned to the audience stands as one of the greatest openings to any show I have seen. Exploding cannons of confetti and countless monstrous balloons raining down on the crowd add to this magnificent, absurd spectacle.
The symphonic splendour of ‘A Spoonful Weighs A Ton’ is fantastic whilst the second encore of ‘Do You Realize?’ manages to elevate that song to anthemic status. It brings to an end a wonderful occasion that further contributes to Hull’s remarkable reinvention, its distinctiveness and well-deserved position as the current champion of culture in this country.
More details about Hull 2017, UK City of Culture can be found HERE
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from The Flaming Lips and Public Service Broadcasting in Hull can be accessed HERE
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