Thesis: Singapore. The no-spitting, no-chewing, no-jaywalking,
Antithesis: The Flaming Lips. A popular beat combo from Oklahoma. I suspect they may have jaywalked occasionally.
So the Lips play the Lion City, in the congruously incongruous setting of a vast complex that incorporates a shopping mall and casino. The band is consigned to the basement, because the best rooms are occupied by a BMW sales conference. But there’s a good turnout, representing the ethnic diversity of this strange island-city-state-concept: scowling Chinese goths with cleaver-sharp cheekbones; Indian indie kids who all look to a greater or lesser extent like Graham Coxon; sweaty ang moh, straight from the office, still in their stripy shirts. But for all their countercultural trappings, they’re good kids really. The tidy, doubled-back queue that forms for the mandatory bag check is entirely spontaneous, as is the one inside at the bar. Between the two is a small sign warning of “some profanity”. How considerate.
In support, we have the Raveonettes, all the way from Denmark. Now, I have no idea whether any of them have so much as looked at a controlled substance, but they are a drug band in the sense that they look how you might expect a band to look if it took certain drugs (see Randy Newman’s analysis of ‘A Horse With No Name’ as being about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid). They sometimes sound like the Shangri-Las stuck in a Chilean mineshaft with Ron Asheton’s guitar collection, but not often enough to make it all worthwhile. They’re a Velvets tribute band who’ve been reduced to Nico and three Doug Yules.
But then the Lips appear, and it’s like Dorothy opening the door to Oz, not least because the Danes’ black-and-peroxide look is bodyslammed aside by riotous colour, from the freakish back projections to the orange-clad dancers, go-go-ing Oompa Loompas on day release from Guantánamo. Not to mention, of course, the streamers and the confetti and the balloons and the balloons filled with confetti, just yearning to be popped. This sort of thing is startling enough in the context of Glastonbury or Lollapalooza: this time, you’re constantly reminding yourself that the Yves St Laurent shop is holding a polite champagne-and-nibbles do three or four storeys above.
And at the heart of it all is Mr Wayne Coyne, whether he’s rolling over the heads of the audience in a giant plastic ball or channelling Kenny Everett with his giant, laser-shooting hands. He plays percussion and bugle and loud-hailer and a succession of increasingly damaged guitars, but his real instrument is the audience, which he plays like a clitoral theremin. Yes, the songs are strong, ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ and ‘Yoshimi’ and ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ morphing into glorious, gleeful football chants, but that’s not really the point, is it? This isn’t so much a gig, it’s more like one of those energetic, content-free musical theatre shows – Stomp, Blue Man, that sort of thing – sprinkled with the influence of crushed-up, naughty sweeties. To enter Coyneworld is to occupy a parallel time stream, one in which Syd Barrett got a bit – but not completely – better, and ended up as the drummer for Earth, Wind and Fire.
Coyne and his Lips offer something that Singapore lacks. Not drugs. Not really happiness; the locals are to a great extent happy, queuing, flushing, eating fish-head curry, making money. But something bigger, more ambitious, more challenging, more scary, wilder. They offer JOY, dancing-on-the-ceiling, knickers-on-the-head joy.
I’m not really sure whether Singapore yet knows what hit it.
(All pics by Small Boo.)