Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Flaming Lips: 1999-2011


The Flaming Lips are the greatest live act to have ever walked this earth. End of discussion.

Ever since “The Soft Bulletin” tour, where the band famously played without a drummer, my wife and I have made a pledge to see them at least twice on each headline tour they have done of the UK. Having both seen them at different venues on the first leg of the early 2003 “Yoshimi” tour (this was before we first met), we went to our first Lips gig together later that year at a celebratory Hammersmith Odeon (or was it Apollo?) gig. We have since seen them five times on the “At War With The Mystics” tour, three times on the “Embryonic” tour, and recently went to ALL THREE of their UK summer gigs, essentially still plugging “Embryonic” - at the Eden Project, Ally Pally, and at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. And even when the crowd have stood there, arms folded, not quite sure what’s going on, the band have never disappointed.

In order to understand how the Lips became so good at putting on a live show, you have to rewind to the mid 1990’s, when the band were in something of a mini crisis. So, in typical Lips style, we shall look at their career backwards! After all, a DVD of promo clips did this some years back. A future blog should deal with the early years and the earlier Warner Brothers days, but this month, I shall detail the band’s four “major” albums and related singles from the last 12 years, as well as looking at how the live show developed tour on tour once they had finally found a new drummer.


The Soft Bulletin
(Warner Bros 9362 47393 2)


The Flaming Lips had released their first EP in North America, simply titled “The Flaming Lips”. The original lead singer was Wayne Coyne’s brother Mark, who left after it’s release. The band released four albums between 1986 and 1990, all of which were later reissued on Restless Records before being “discovered” by Warner Brothers. However, they did not do a “Nirvana” or a “Sonic Youth”, and the band’s first major label release, 1992’s “Hit To Death In The Future Head”, was not much of a seller. 1993’s “Transmissions From The Satellite Heart” provided them - eventually - with a shock US hit single in the form of “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and was the first album upon which current guitarist Steven Drozd joined them - but as a drummer. The band also recruited a new guitarist in the form of Ronald Jones, who replaced Jonathan Donohue, who was going “full time” with his other band, Mercury Rev.

1995’s “Clouds Taste Metallic” was only a moderate success, and it marked something of a dark spell for the band - Jones left, Drozd and bassist Michael Ivens both had near fatal brushes with death, and Warners were wondering why they had signed a band who were failing to sell any records. Coyne, slightly fed up with the basic “rock music” sound, decided to experiment, and conducted the “Parking Lot Experiments” in 1996. He had, at the time, noted that if you played the same song on different CD players, that the players did not play “in sync”, and you ended up with a different sounding song. He thus made a tape of new Flaming Lips recordings, and then conducted experiments in car parks in North America where he would hand out 40-50 copies of the tape to people, who would then be asked to play them at the same time on their car stereos.

Coyne liked the idea of extending this “multi surround sound” idea to CD, and in early 1997, the remaining trio released the US-only 4 CD set, “Zaireeka”. Each CD consisted of (the same) eight new songs, with different mixes on each CD. The idea was that each CD should be played simultaneously (on four CD players), creating what you might call an ’octophonic’ sound experience. The material on the album moved away from the band’s earlier slightly “freaked out” music, into a more symphonic sound, and although “Zaireeka” was regarded by some critics as being a bit of a mess (listen to some the discs 'on their own', and it's all a bit shambolic), the same recording sessions were spawning songs that were being planned for use on the band’s next “proper” album. The record was 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin”.

Upon it’s release in May of that year, “The Soft Bulletin” was regarded as a triumphant success. Critical acclaim was universal, and although the album failed to dent the US top 200, it has sold steadily in the band’s homeland over the years. It’s success in the UK was helped by MTV airing the videos for the two singles, “Race For The Prize” and “Waitin’ For A Superman”, and by the end of the year, the album was not only competing in “Best of 99” polls, but also “best of the 90’s” and “best of the millennium” polls. One can’t help but think that the loss of Jones effectively forced the band into looking at new ways of recording - Coyne was later quoted as saying his instrument of choice was not the guitar but “the recording studio”. He also later admitted that the trio simply pieced the album together bit by bit in the studio, without any consideration as to how - as a trio - they were going to play the material live.

The UK version of the album had a slightly different track listing to the US version, including “Slow Motion” instead of “The Spiderbite Song”, and concluded with remixes of the two singles and a track called “Buggin’”, the original mix of which turned up on the “Austin Powers 2” soundtrack album. The UK version has since been re-released as a double disc edition, including a DVD-Audio disc with a 5.1 surround sound mix, with “The Spiderbite Song” and the ’Austin Powers’ mix of “Buggin’” replacing the original three bonus remixes.

The two singles released from the album included two tracks from “Zaireeka” as b-sides, thus making their official UK debut. Two different CD’s were issued for each single, and the same b-sides were used across all 4 discs. But - you guessed it - each of the mixes were different, and the plan was for you to buy all four, then play the b-sides at the same time on four different CD players. So, the first “Race For The Prize” CD has the ‘disc 1 of “Zaireeka”’ mixes of “Riding To Work In The Year 2525” and “Thirty Five Thousand Feet Of Despair”, the second CD had the ‘disc 2 of “Zaireeka’” mixes of the same songs, and so on, and so forth.

Resultant live shows were undertaken, despite the fact that the album had been created using multiple tracks, and not just three people in a studio recording a basic rock album. The touring line up consisted of the basic trio - Drozd turned his hand to piano and guitar, and the band used tapes to fill in the drum parts. The basic elements of the future live shows were coming together, with mirroballs, video screens at the back of the stage, a big gong, loudspeakers and fake blood (a la the “Superman” video). Some of the songs were played in front of projections of Drozd playing the drums, to give the effect of a four piece being on stage but it would be on the “Yoshimi” tour that the band would expand onstage to a proper four piece, and would expand the extracurricular activities to ensure that as a live band, things would really start to take off.

SOFT BULLETIN UK CD SINGLES

Race For The Prize (Remix)/Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Zaireeka Disc 1 Mix)/Thirty Five Thousand Feet Of Despair (Zaireeka Disc 1 Mix) (CD1, Warner Bros W494 CD1)
Race For The Prize (Remix)/Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Zaireeka Disc 2 Mix)/Thirty Five Thousand Feet Of Despair (Zaireeka Disc 2 Mix) (CD2, Warner Bros W494 CD2, different colour p/s)
Waitin’ For A Superman (Radio Edit)/Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Zaireeka Disc 3 Mix)/Thirty Five Thousand Feet Of Despair (Zaireeka Disc 3 Mix) (CD1, Warner Bros W505 CD1)
Waitin’ For A Superman (Radio Edit)/Riding To Work In The Year 2025 (Zaireeka Disc 4 Mix)/Thirty Five Thousand Feet Of Despair (Zaireeka Disc 4 Mix) (CD2, Warner Bros W505 CD2, different colour p/s)


Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
(Warner Bros 9362 48141 2)


With the band having successfully made a record that moved away from the basic “rock band” sound, they continued to mine the “symphonic” feel of it’s predecessor. Work on “Yoshimi” was still conducted as a three piece, but in the run up to the album’s summer 2002 release, word began to filter through that the band were to recruit a session drummer to supplement the band. And indeed, Kliph Surlock joined the band for their live dates, eventually joining “full time” on 2009’s “Embryonic”.

Prior to the album’s release, the band toured the UK - and the response to these gigs was phenomenal. Not only were the Lips now a fully fledged four piece again, the first time since the days of “Clouds Taste Metallic”, but the live show was getting bigger and bigger - people in animal costumes dancing on either side of the stage, Drozd and Ivins also performing in ‘Cuddly Animal’ suits, balloons being thrown into the crowd, on top of the already in-place video screens and fake blood…the basic elements of the now famous Lips live show were there. Possibly sensing that their old non-symphonic songs didn’t quite fit in with the new ones, and the fact that the band’s increasing fan base may not have been aware of the old songs, the set list consisted almost entirely of material from “Yoshimi” and “The Soft Bulletin” only. When “Yoshimi” was released, it was the subject of ecstatic reviews once more, with vinyl pressings being issued on coloured vinyl in the UK.

The band returned to the UK for a tour in January 2003, supported by the likes of British Sea Power. Each night, they also featured a mystery “surprise” guest, and when I saw them, at the Forum in North London, Tim Wheeler from Ash did a quick acoustic set just before the band came on. “Race For The Prize” was now the standard set opener, and the band’s love of Pink Floyd saw them covering “Lucifer Sam” (originally on the Floyd’s 1967 debut LP, “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”) as second song of the night, before performing “Yoshimi” as the third number. Some pre-”Soft Bulletin” material featured in the form of “Lightning Strikes The Postman”, accompanied by a mind altering strobe freakout, as well as “She Don’t Use Jelly“, which featured a video introduction lifted from a 1990’s US TV show the band had performed the song on, with the host announcing “there’s a different breed of rock band out there in Oklahoma City…”. Other numbers from the new album included “In The Morning Of The Magicians” and “Do You Realize??”. The band had taken to doing “acoustic” reprises of certain songs at the end of the song proper, with both “Yoshimi” and “Jelly” getting such extensions. “Do You Realize??”, now the main set closer, was also prefaced by a video of a TV show featuring the band, this time from “Beverley Hills 90210” (yep, no kidding), with Tiffani Amber Thiessen announcing “Please Welcome The Flaming Lips!”, which then skipped back and repeated “The Flaming Lips!” four more times, before a 1-2-3-4 count-in flashed up on the video screens - followed immediately by the opening bars of the song, and a massive confetti eruption. “Waitin’ For A Superman” and “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton”, both off “Soft Bulletin”, were played during the encore, the latter using the same “Drozd On Drums” video projection that had been used on the “Soft Bulletin” tour.

The buzz surrounding the band as a live act was now unstoppable, and they stole the show at Glastonbury that summer. Second on the bill before headliners Radiohead, the band decided to include not just a stage full of people in animal costumes, but also had two people dressed up as inflatable suns at the front of the stage. Watching the band open with an incendiary “Race For The Prize”, with Drozd, Ivins and Surlock in their animal outfits, cuddly tigers, chickens and elephants dancing along, the smiling inflatable suns, the balloons being bounced around by the crowd, and Coyne, spinning his lamplight contraption around his head…nobody was putting on such a fun, joyous and simply riotous show as this. Not only had they released possibly the album of 2002, they were now unquestionably the greatest live act in the world by the end of 2003.

Singles-wise, three singles were issued in the UK to help promote the album - “Do You Realize??”, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1” and “Fight Test”. Each single was issued in three formats - two CD’s with various bonus B-sides, and a DVD single featuring the promo clip for the relevant A-side. The sleeves of the DVD editions featured stills from the corresponding video. There were in fact two different clips for “Do You Realize??”, but chart rules only allowed the UK promo clip to be included on the single. “Do You Realize??”, for some, remains the single greatest song the band had ever recorded. It may sound fun and joyous, but it’s message that “everyone you know someday will day” brings tears to the eyes. In a 3 minute song, the band had managed to explain just how fantastic life could be, but also how heartbreaking it could be, both at the same time. The band were now chart stars, and after finishing the UK tour in early 03, they appeared on “Top Of The Pops” to plug “Yoshimi”, where Justin Timberlake - dressed as a furry animal - joined them onstage.

The band returned to the UK again at the end of 2003, and the first Lips gig me and my (then future) wife attended as a couple was a monumental show at the Hammersmith Odeon/Apollo. Given that the band had played generally small venues on the “Soft Bulletin” tour, the group themselves were somewhat overwhelmed by the fact that they had managed to fill a 5000 capacity ballroom. Coyne admitted this to the crowd, and if I remember correctly, was so amazed at the number of people who had come to see them - it was their biggest headline show to date - that he challenged the crowd in the downstairs standing area to try and bounce the balloons that were fired out during the opening “Race For The Prize” up towards the first floor balcony area.

It’s difficult - if you have never seen the band - to describe just how good a Lips show can be. A Guardian review at the time puts it quite well... ”the air is thick with balloons. A projector flashes images of mushroom clouds and hurricanes. A man in a safari suit swings a lamp like a lasso. All around him are people dressed as furry animals...and this is just the first number”. The setlist had altered since the summer 02 shows, with a manic cover of “Seven Nation Army” by now fully installed as the second number of the show. “Fight Test” appeared (I can’t remember if I saw them do it at The Forum), and on this night, they did a heartbreakingly superb “Waitin’ For A Superman” - which would disappear from the UK setlists until 2011. There was also an outing for “The Golden Path”, a recent single collaboration with The Chemical Brothers. As it was to be their last tour of the UK before Christmas, the band played a cover of “White Christmas” at the end, Coyne singing it through a loudspeaker, whilst what I think were a group of elves wandered along the gap between the stage and the front row, shaking hands with the crowd. Simply incredible. As the Guardian review concluded, “The Flaming Lips inspire the communality of a rave, a 60’s happening or a giant birthday party. Audience members bat balloons around and grin at strangers. They couldn‘t be happier”.

In the same week as the Apollo show, the band issued a mini-album (albeit one that was longer than some bands' vinyl albums), “Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell”. It included four new songs, and remixes of the title track (originally on “Yoshimi”) and “Do You Realize??”. It brought to the end the promo campaign for “Yoshimi”, but things were only going to get better.

IMPORTANT YOSHIMI ERA UK SINGLES/MINI ALBUMS

Do You Realize??/If I Go Mad/Funeral In My Head/Syrtis Major (CD1, Warner Bros W586 CD1)
Do You Realize??/Up Above The Daily Hum/Xanthe Terra (CD2, Warner Bros W586 CD2, different p/s)
Do You Realize?? (Video)/(LP Version)/The Southern Oklahoma Cosmic Trigger Contest/Okie Noodling Epic Sunset Mix No.5 (DVD, Warner Bros W586 DVD, unique p/s)
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1/Do You Realize?? (Scott Hardkiss Floating In Space Vocal Mix)/Yohsimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1 (Japanese Version) (CD1, Warner Bros W597 CD1)
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1/Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (Live, KEXP Radio 5.8.2002)/Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1 (Live, AOL Sessions 15.7.2002) (CD2, Warner Bros W597 CD2, different p/s)
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1 (Video)/(LP Version)/At The Fish Fry & The Biggot’s Drunk/Galactic Melancholy (DVD, Warner Bros W597 DVD, unique p/s)
Fight Test/Thank You Jack White/The Deterioration Of The Fight Or Flight Response (CD1, Warner Bros W611 CD1)
Fight Test/The Strange Design Of Conscience/Fight Test (Demo) (CD2, Warner Bros W611 CD2, different p/s)
Fight Test (Video)/(LP Version)/Knives Out (Live on Morning Becomes Eclectic, 18.7.2002)/One More Robot (Live, XFM Radio July 2002) (DVD, Warner Bros W611 DVD, unique p/s)
The Golden Path (LP Version)/(Ewan Pearson Extended Vocal) (CD, Virgin CHEMSD 18)
The Golden Path (Video)/(Edit)/(Ewan’s Rave Hell Dub) (DVD, Virgin CHEMSDVD 18, different p/s)
Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell (CD, Warner Bros 9362 48514 2)


At War With The Mystics
(Warner Bros 9362 49966 2)


In 2005, the Lips contributed a new song, “Mr Ambulance Driver”, to a movie soundtrack. It would, in alternate form, appear on the following year’s “At War With The Mystics”. A video was filmed for the track, and soon after was included on the ’Greatest Hits’ DVD release “Void” - which ran backwards from 2005 towards the start of the Warners Years.

“At War With The Mystics” was a sometimes heavier, darker, and at times more political record, but fitted in well with the “Soft Bulletin”/”Yoshimi” releases. “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, the lead single in the UK (but not the US) was an anti-George Bush rant and along with the second single “The WAND (The Will Always Negates Defeat)”, was issued on a 7” Picture Disc. “It Overtakes Me” later surfaced in EP form, and was featured in a TV ad at the time.

The initial UK tour for the album took place in April 2006, and consisted of four shows. We went to three of them - Edinburgh Usher Hall on the 19th, London Royal Albert Hall on the 22nd and the Birmingham Academy on the 24th. The Edinburgh show saw the debut at a UK Lips headline show of the now famous space bubble - before the opening number “Race For The Prize”, Wayne would surf across the crowd in a large see through plastic ball before being returned (hopefully) to the stage in time for the first song. The bubble was not used at the Birmingham show, as the lighting rig above the stage was too low for the bubble to squeeze underneath.

All three of the shows saw the band on top form, with the stage show just as grandiose as before - if not more. There were confetti showers, and extra big oversized mega-balloons were launched during “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”. During “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 2”, a “laser battle” was conducted by the two sets of dancing fans on either side of the stage - the fans, dressed as Aliens on one side and Father Christmases on the other, shone their flashlights at each other during the song, and was introduced by Wayne as a fight between Scientology and Christianity.

“Free Radicals” had now replaced “Seven Nation Army” as the second song, and was one of several “Mystics” tracks now in the set, along with the likes of “Vein Of Stars” and “The WAND”. The shows also included “In The Morning Of The Magicians” from “Yoshimi”, “The Spark That Bled” from “Soft Bulletin” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” - the latter, a staple of the Lips set for years, was still there, played near the end. At the end, Wayne grabbed a balloon blowing gun and started to pump up a huge balloon, with the band continuing to freestyle their way through the final notes until the balloon got so big it popped. At one of the “Embryonic” shows, I seem to recall the balloon almost refusing to burst, with Wayne looking bemused as the band had to keep playing for longer than expected! The band then returned to race through a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, another anti-Bush statement.

The Albert Hall show was mind blowing - probably my favourite ever Lips show. The atmosphere at the front was electric, and as “Race For The Prize” kicked in, there was dancing from the off. Balloons were everywhere, and as Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals watched from the side of stage, a bell ringer stood not too far away rang his bell after each and every song. Watching the balloons being batted high into the heavens of the venue was a site to behold.

The band returned for more shows in the fall of 2006, including a return to Birmingham - but this time at the significantly larger NIA. We witnessed a show on November 4th at the Brighton Centre, where, having been dropped from the earlier shows, “Fight Test” returned and replaced “In The Morning Of The Magicians”. “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion” from “Mystics” replaced “The Spark That Bled”, whilst “War Pigs” was now gone, replaced by “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” (off “The Soft Bulletin”).

The NIA show was - atmosphere wise - the worst Lips show we have ever seen. The venue was too big - and soon after the usual incendiary opener of “Race For The Prize”, we felt that - despite being near the front - we were stood among people who seemed to not know who the band were, or didn’t seem to know the songs, or just didn’t seem to be having any fun. If you go to a Lips gig and do not at any point punch the air, attempt to bat the balloons, wave your arms, sing along or clap, then why are you there?

The setlist was slightly altered from the Brighton gig - “Fight Test” was out, but the set closed with the band’s ludicrous cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Ridiculous fun, but still not enough to wake the sleeping crowd by the crash barrier.

MYSTICS SINGLES

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song/Why Does It End? (7” Picture Disc in clear stickered sleeve, Warner Bros W711)
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song/The Gold In The Mountain Of Our Madness (CD1, Warner Bros W711 CD1)
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song/Time Travel…Yes!!/Why Does It End/The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (Video) (CD2, Warner Bros W711 CD2, unique p/s)
The WAND/You Gotta Hold On (7” Picture Disc in clear stickered sleeve, Warner Bros W706)
The WAND (LP Mix)/(Goldfrapp Remix) (CD1, Warner Bros W706 CD1)
The WAND/You Gotta Hold On/The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (In Anatropous Reflex)/The WAND (Video) (CD2, Warner Bros W706 CD2, unique p/s)
It Overtakes Me (12” Mix)/I’m Afraid Of Dying…Aren’t You?/Free Radicals (The Bird And The Bee Mix)/Time Travel?? Yes!! (Yellow Vinyl 12” in clear stickered sleeve, Warner Bros W750 T)
It Overtakes Me (12” Mix)/I’m Afraid Of Dying…Aren’t You?/Free Radicals (The Bird And The Bee Mix)/Time Travel?? Yes!! (CD, Warner Bros W750 CD)


Embryonic
(Warner Bros 9362 49733 8)


At the end of 2008, the long-time-in-production film “Christmas On Mars” was finally issued - it had a limited US theatrical run, but was more or less straight to DVD. The DVD came with a free soundtrack CD, rather than it being an album with a free film - when the Lips returned to the UK the following year, not one song from the soundtrack was performed.

In the summer of 2009, the band toured the US, previewing their next studio effort, “Embryonic”. In addition to a preview of two or three songs from the LP at most shows, the band also performed “Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear”, a song buried away on the 2006 rarities album “20 Years Of Weird”. This song was dropped before the band hit the UK. The band had also, at some earlier shows, been performing a mind alteringly brilliant version of Madonna’s “Borderline”, which was included on a compilation LP at the time, and also turned up on a 2 track Promo CD in the UK with a song by Stardeath And White Dwarfs, who had Lips connections.

“Embryonic” was seen by some critics as a bit of a career suicide move. Heavily influenced by the prog rock bands the group had always confessed to loving, most critics dismissed the album as being a deliberate attempt to make an “anti-Yohsimi”. But repeated listening reveals some gems, and to be fair, the sometimes muffled production was a charming throwback to the olden days - listen to a lot of modern albums, and the production is far too “clean”. Llive, the new songs took on a totally new lease of life.

The band played a six show UK tour soon after, and we went to three. Following a pair of shows at the new London venue The Troxy, we attended the Portsmouth Guildhall show on November 13th. Following a fire alarm during the support bands which caused the venue to be evacuated for quarter of an hour, Wayne made his debut once again - as he would continue to do for the rest of the tour - in the space bubble. “Race For The Prize” was followed by the first of four songs from the album, “Silver Trembling Hands”, which saw a man in a Gorilla Suit jump onto Wayne’s back halfway through and jig along for the rest of the song. This act was repeated at the other shows we saw in Manchester and Birmingham.

“The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” was next, followed by a pared down “Fight Test”, “In The Morning Of The Magicians” and three from “Embryonic” - “Convinced Of The Hex”, “Evil” and “See The Leaves”. Following another pared down ‘hit’, “Yoshimi”, and a quick “Happy Birthday” to someone in the crowd, the band played “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung” and “The WAND”. However, a combination of a venue with seemingly no air, and some major strobing, saw somebody in the crowd need medical attention, so the band left the stage to allow the situation to calm down. With a curfew looming, “Jelly” was omitted and the band returned to play “Do You Realize??” - now appearing as the band’s encore performance.

With the obvious exception of “Happy Birthday”, the Manchester and Birmingham shows were identical, although “She Don’t Use Jelly” made an appearance at both shows. Again, the Birmingham show seemed to be full of beer-sipping students who didn’t want to enjoy themselves, and as “Race For The Prize” kicked in and they seemed to show no emotion, we decided to barge past them to get to the front where we spotted some people who WERE enjoying the balloon batting - so we joined them.

The band returned to Glasto in 2010 (headlining the second stage), by which time the band had released a track by track cover of Pink Floyd's “Dark Side Of The Moon”. The band had been performing selected numbers from it over the years (“Breathe” got an outing at Glasto 2003) and had been performed on stage in the US in it’s entirety before the studio release. The band recently have been performing the album again on stage in full at selected US gigs.

In 2011, the band conducted another tour of the UK, as part of the “In Our Bodies Out Of Our Heads” tour. The tour took it’s title from a track on a US only EP released that year, pressed on a USB stick tucked inside a “Gummy Skull” - ie. A skull, made of gum, which you had to partially rip apart (or eat) in order to find the stick! The band had pledged to release new music each month of the year, and as well as a You Tube “Zaireeka” style experiment, and a number of US only 12” singles, had thus gone someway to making this pledge a reality. The fifth release, a “Gummy Foetus”, planned for May turned up in July, with three more new songs, and there has recently been the release online of a 6-hour song, thus making Yes look like Napalm Death, along with more 12” releases.

The three shows this year took place in what can only be described as iconic venues - the Eden Project, Alexandra Palace in London, and the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Greater Manchester. The Ally Pally show saw the band play, for only the fifth or so time, “The Soft Bulletin” in it’s entirety. Previous performances had been restricted to the US, where the band had played the US track listing version of the album, but for the UK, of course, it was the UK version of the album that was given an airing. The bonus tracks, of course, were absent, so after “Sleeping On The Roof”, that was it. Some songs were being played for the first time in years, and Coyne introduced several of them by announcing "we may mess this up", despite the fact that such songs had been featured on previous tours. The band’s decision to sometimes extend songs, make them slower (“Waitin’ For A Superman” was performed acoustically) or for Wayne to just ramble on inbetween songs meant an album barely 45 minutes long on vinyl took an hour and a half to perform! The band returned for an encore of “Do You Realize??” (with what looked like a tearful Lou Barlow watching from side of stage, Dinosaur Jr were the main support act) and that was that.

For the other two shows, the band opened not with “Race For The Prize”, but “Worm Mountain”, before performing “She Don’t Use Jelly”, now shorn of it’s video intro and balloon bursting finale. “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was followed by “Is David Bowie Dying”, a slightly obscure choice from one of the recent US only 12” singles, before three numbers from the 2009 shows followed - “Yoshimi”, “See The Leaves” and “Pompeii”. The duo of “What Is The Light” and “The Observer” closed the main set, before encores of “Prize” and “Realize”. At Eden, “Prize” was preceded by a new slow-mo intro, but at Jodrell Bank, a film about the observatory was broadcast onto the huge telescope, which ended with a countdown from ten to one, over the top of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, the famous piece of music featured in “2001 A Space Odyssey”. As it reached it’s climax, the opening bars of “Prize” kicked straight in this time around.

With “Embryonic” spawning no physical releases, the list below is of the two important releases the band have issued since that are of interest to UK fans. I have not listed any of the other limited edition US releases, as most of them are nigh on impossible to track down, but it is worth noting that a live “Soft Bulletin” USB exists - available to you for no less than three figures!

NOTABLE RELEASES OF INTEREST TO UK FANS 2010/2011

The Dark Side Of The Moon (CD, Warner Bros 9362-49668-7, released after US edition so shows 2010 Publishing date and 2009 Copyright dates on sleeve)
Is David Bowie Dying?/Alan’s Theremin/You Don’t Respond/Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth Part 2 (Coloured Vinyl 12”, Warner Bros 021159, 1000 only, each single has unique “splattered” vinyl design, housed in clear stickered outer bag, catalogue number scratched into run out grooves only)

The “David Bowie” single was only sold in a pair of US record stores, and is part of the much bigger “Year Of New Music” experiment, which might be worthy of a future blog in it’s own right, but as this is the only 2011 release I own, I am not sure if I am qualified enough to talk about it. A future blog will look at the earlier years of the band, less celebrated by critics, and a bit ramshackle at times, but with a few nice tunes tucked away here and there.


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