Ten years ago, staring at MTV Rocks on the television with my Dad, the lyrics “she don’t use butter, she don’t use cheese, she don’t use jelly or any of these” set me on a path. A path which started with me purchasing the rest of The Flaming Lips‘ back catalogue in one bulk purchase, and ended at Liverpool Sound City on The Atlantic Stage, with a sensory overload courtesy of Wayne Coyne and co. A fantastic booking for the festival.
But before then, I of course had to get to the festival, which as I learnt on the Thursday, is no mean feat – seeing as it is a good 30 minute walk from the main Liverpool city centre. My solution? A rented bike, a tactic that when I whizzed past the thousands of revellers waiting for taxis (for an hour and a half in some cases) and stumbling drunkenly back to the City Centre made me incredibly smug, and the revellers entirely mugged off.
Once I’d locked up outside of the new festival site, which looks certain to be the festival’s home for the foreseeable future, I ventured to The Atlantic Stage for a set that would begin a week of social media awkwardness. Almost supergroup The Serpent Power were gracing the stage, made up of Ian Skelly (The Coral) and Paul Molloy (The Zutons) and a few other less well-knowns…
The result, an utterly forgettable set full of wallpaper music:- the kind of self-indulgent psychedelia with noodling solos galore that you’d expect from a super group, but perhaps not one with the song-writing credentials The Serpent Power brought with them. With droves of punters at The Atlantic Stage deciding to make haste somewhere else, it was obvious their brand of new indie was really striking accord with the flower crown in their hair bunch and not much else.
So when I tweeted the following:
— John Fernandez (@JohnFernandez1) May 23, 2015
I didn’t really expect to wake up the next day with The Serpent Power feeling I had struck a nerve:
— Serpent Power (@TheSerpentPower) May 24, 2015
Now while they may have got it spot on about my run-of-the-mill willy, the set was still sub-par. The ‘banter’ was probably the highlight, so maybe social-media comedy is the way to go? But as the cliché goes, don’t give up your day jobs. (5/10)
From the largest stage, to the smallest: Service Bells were next up on The Record Store stage, which effectively was just a small tent with speakers and the ability to sell records. The intimate surroundings lent to Service Bells’ set superbly, as their Queens of the Stone Age-influenced rock bounced and reverberated within the tight confines. Over waves of feedback, Fraser Harvey’s cutting vocals hit the back of the tent, their visceral drum and guitar assault working to draw a packed out crowd into the tight confines. Although their set was brief, they teased perfectly to their later performance on The Kraken Stage, by giving just a taste of the aggression of their music. (7/10)
From blood and guts rock ‘n’ roll, it was on to alternative new wave electronica with Dutch Uncles on The Atlantic Stage. It’s a bit of a departure but a welcome one, as the four-piece pull out all the stops to make it a feast for the senses. Despite the rather overcast and glum setting in Liverpool, Dutch Uncles serve up an almost samba beat, with hips shaking and a calypso rhythm uniting the audience in their booty shaking. Duncan Wallis juts and throws his way around the stage as Andy Proudfoot, Robin Richards and Peter Broadhead provide a glittering calypso boogie. Their colourful backdrop and the verve and enthusiasm imbued in their performance meant gave a summery outlook for what was a rather gloomy setting, as they transported us to a beach, ‘Club Tropicana’ style.
Striking an uncanny resemblance to Game Of Thrones character plump, yet loveable buffoon Samwell Tarly, lead singer of the next band Leon Stanford captured the entire crowd with his wit and lack of comprehension for how close all the stages were. In honesty, the Tarly lookalike had a point seeing as what could be made of his beautiful Gaslight Anthem-esque vocals was mostly drowned out by the thumping bass emerging from The Cargo Stage behind him.
Despite these facts, The People and the Poet cut through the walls of sonic obscurity as well as they could and played a brilliant set. The storytelling was encapsulating and Stanford’s cutting wit meant your attention was affixed to the Welsh four-piece. My only confusion was how Welsh they sounded speaking, and how un-Welsh they sounded making music. In fact, it felt more like a band from the Midwest of America, which did have me scratching my head. Despite the tonal confusions, The People and the Poet stood out on the Saturday as arguably the stand out band with their brilliant turns of phrase and superb delivery, even in the face of adversity… (8/10)
The joyful summer party atmosphere of Dutch Uncles was supplanted at The Baltic Stage, giant empty warehouse, by the feeling of a proper old-school punk show, courtesy of aged-retainers The Membranes. Old-school punk has a certain, er, look. The Membranes, quite simply ARE that look: shirts off, muscles rippling, dodgy haircuts that they probably couldn’t pull off 30 years ago and are no closer to doing so now and a menacing look upon the frontman’s face. They were every bit the grizzled bunch of punkers that the tagline ‘still inspired by punk rock but believe music has no boundaries’ conjures up.
It’s not exactly note perfect, and ‘gritty’ is probably the best word to describe it as, with most of the audience affixed to the wrinkled prune John Robb marauding menacingly around the front echelons of the stage. For most of the set, regrettably for the aged-retainers, their post-punk growls and riffs just didn’t strike an accord, until their final hurrah when the band rallied for a rousing call and return effort. Stellar work for guys who look like they may need a defibrillator post-set. (7/10)
After a brief top-up at one of the beer tents, which looked drastically overstaffed and dramatically overegged for the actual level of trade they would be receiving throughout the weekend, I made my way to the end of the pier at The Atlantic Stage for a moment I’d waited more than a decade for. As the light of the sun disappeared and the artificial light began to illuminate the small strip of tarmac the crowd were kettled into, the stage was draped with various plastic tubes for the light-fantastic The Flaming Lips were about to set up. In true Wayne Coyne style, he helped with the soundcheck resplendent in his green latex froggy suit, with the rest of the band dressed equally as colourfully and dotted around the stage, intertwined in the maze of dangling tubes.
Coyne and co. began with a ballad in the form of ‘The Abandoned Hospital Ship’, a jangling soaring journey through the psyche of this era-defining trio. That’s all before The Flaming Lips really begin their orgy for the senses, with cannons full of ticker tape and a ‘Fight Test’ singalong, as giant blow up aliens join Coyne on stage. As Coyne takes us through a quick tour of the bands most successful singles, he stops the audience midway through a slowed down singalong of ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1’. “I don’t know whether you KNOW how important the HYAH HYAH bit of Yoshimi is, but Coyne bellows, “it’s a marker as to the level of crazy the audience is”. Most of the crowd loomed around baffled, but as it came to the HYAH HYAH portion of the song, we got a proper shout from the audience.
The set never really peaked to a mass singalong, simply for the fact that most of the audience didn’t know a lot of the songs. But the encore of ‘Do You Realize?’ was a soaring chorus across Liverpool Sound City with everyone getting caught up in the lights and excitement of The Flaming Lips.
Despite this, disappointingly due to the niche market The Flaming Lips occupy the crowd never really fully got on board with the set on a musical level. As far as a feast for the eyes, they delivered a 10/10 performance, but musically there was a lack of connection as a band who have disappointed with its last three records struggled to hold the interest of the crowd. (7/10)