When I think of The Flaming Lips and the glory of their live sets, I can't help but smile. Wayne Coyne's entrance in his inflatable bubble, giant balloons. confetti cannons firing into the crowd, backing dancers in fancy dress, THOSE laser hands, it really is as Coyne himself describes it, "The Greatest Show on Earth". That alone should be enough of a draw to bring people in. However, this wasn't just any Flaming Lips show, this one was special.
Organized in conjunction with those behind the Kendall Calling Festival, and Manchester's legendary Warehouse Project, Jodrell Bank Live is a new event that is hoped will be a regular affair. A stunning backdrop awaits those who play and attend. The site itself is an observatory that hosts a number of radio telescopes that beam into the deepest, darkest areas of the Universe. The Lovell Telescope is the 3rd largest steerable radio telescope on the planet at 250ft high (76.2m) and as we entered the site for the first time, it was clear that the stage was almost right next to this mammoth construction. You could almost hear Wayne Coyne's dreams coming true being transmitted by the Telescope if you listened hard enough.
Arriving late due to only getting tickets that day (a long and ultimately dull story of one man's struggle to cross obscure parts of the North West of England by train because he doesn't have a Paypal account..), my friend Rachel and I realized we had missed the first two acts of the day, Alice Gold and The Wave Machines. I knew little of either and was curious to see them live. A shame, but the price you pay for being so disorganized!
So the first band we got to see was Ok Go. Again, I know little of them, apart from the fact they make interesting and acclaimed videos. The early part of the set did nothing for me and so it seems, the majority of the audience. Their power pop is clean and hooky, but nothing memorable. The stand out part of the set is when the members of the band converge around a table and play Return on hand bells. An astounding moment, and completely out of the blue. From there, they play the hits, but despite charismatic front man Damian Clash's best attempts, they never fully win over the crowd.
Between sets, we are treated to some talks by University of Manchester Professor Dr Tim O'Brien, telling us about the history of the telescope and playing some noises from space that have been beamed back. Who knew that the sound of a star that had died 10,000 years ago could sound like a new sub genre of Drum n' Bass? The crowd lap it up and begin to chant "Science! Science!" like they have just seen England win the World Cup with Stephen Hawking as Manager.
British Sea Power are next and perhaps the perfect band to perform before the main event. The set is littered with underrated anthemic gems such as Waving Flags and Carrion from across their career, it's just a shame the newer material falls a bit flat mid set. Carrion is the band's last song and ends with a stage invasion from a robot and a giant bear. The two dance and end up fighting on the stage, leading to a wrestling match with members of the band. It's almost as if the gases are starting to come together for the big bang.
So to the spectacular climax that will be talked about by all who were there for years to come. As the Flaming Lips set up, Dr Tim O'Brien comes back on stage to tell us more about the work done at the Observatory, but this time he has a surprise in store. He contacts the man in charge of moving Lovell that evening via radio link and the telescope, that has until this point been facing away from the crowd, is moved around to face the stage! 5000 people are in awe as it is gracefully aligned to show a triumph of 20th century engineering. And then almost inevitably, images are beamed onto the face of the giant telescope. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck as I can barely believe what is happening.
The Flaming Lips begin to rapturous applause. One by one, the band enter the stage and either side of them stand this evening's designated dancers dressed as different characters from the Wizard of Oz. Eventually Wayne Coyne joins us in his inflatable bubble and proceeds to crowd surf as the band play opening instrumental The Captain is a Cold Hearted and Egotistical Fool. The first real sing-along comes in the shape of She Don't Use Jelly from 1993's Transmissions From the Satellite Heart. A quirky grunge classic from the days when the band were very much outsiders. This is followed in quick succession by The Yeah Yeah Song and a stunning Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots, which has the crowd at full voice.
This isn't a greatest hits set that some might have expected though or the entirety of The Soft Bulletin, as the band had done the night before in London. Some of their best work is instrumental or has a more communal vocal effect and they are represented tonight by Worm Mountain, Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung and The Observer, the latter proceeded by a stunning version of What is the Light? that took my breath away.
The band leave the stage and return for an encore in time honoured tradition. However, this time, the focus has shifted back to the Lovell Telescope. A minute long projection is blasted onto the face of the telescope, including an interview with the scientist who gives it its name, Bernard Lovell. It leaves on a countdown with the music from Stanley Kubrick's seminal Sci Fi masterpiece 2001 - A Space Odyssey playing in the background. There is barely time to regain your breath at such a spectacle as the band launch straight into a majestic Race for the Prize.
Finishing on an almighty singalong for Do you Realise?, a mesmerising evening comes to an end. Suddenly, at least for an hour and a half, the universe seems to make complete sense. The lyrics of the song "we're floating in space.." resonate with all and it is clear that this event has been a triumph. "Wow. I think this is the greatest place to be on planet Earth tonight," says Wayne Coyne and it is impossible to disagree. It's out of this world.