The Flaming Lips
w/ Spiritualized. Mon., July 15, 7:30 p.m. The Oakdale, 95 S. Turnpike Rd., Wallingford. (203) 269-8721, oakdale.com, manicproductions.org, premierconcerts.com. $41.50-$51.50.
The Flaming Lips' live show has grown to an event of epic proportions over the years. You've probably seen or at least heard of the giant hamster ball, the confetti and streamers, the projections, the people dressed up in animal costumes dancing on stage, the giant vagina, and so forth — but before you pop that gel tab you've been saving, please note that the band is currently supporting an album called The Terror. What was once a massive psychedelic celebration of life and all the colorful and wonderful strange things it encapsulates has been transformed into something darker. Something potentially terrifying.
"We've got this weird, sort of intense, very different, but I think really powerful, new show," says singer Wayne Coyne. "Someone suggested, 'wouldn't it be great if we had black confetti, so the more it filled up, the darker the place got and the more it looked like smoke and destruction,' as opposed to the way we would normally do it and the way most people do it, just to elevate the whole thing. And we thought conceptually it sounds amazing — the idea that you're shooting a storm into a place. It sometimes looks like a swarm of locusts, or as though the ceiling has caught on fire and is falling down on you. And that part really appealed to us."
In order to sync such an elaborate production up to the music, the band must lock into a defined set list structure that leaves some, but not a lot of, wiggle room. But Coyne has never found this to be limiting in any way.
"We've never really been a spontaneous musical ensemble anyway," says Coyne. "Even though some guys in the group, especially Steven [Steven Drozd: vocals, drums, guitar, keyboards], Kliph [Kliph Scurlock: drums], Derek [Derek Brown: guitar, keys, percussion], and now we have a new member, Jake [Jake Ingalls: stagehand turned band member]... I mean, they are stellar musicians that could work very intuitively no matter who they're playing with. But Michael and myself really are not. I mean, we come from, and we have not evolved very far away from the idea that we are kind of a punk rock group. We play our songs and we know how to play them, but... I remember when we were playing with Beck, we were the musicians that were playing on one of Beck's tours as his group. And we would rehearse the songs, and then sometimes depending on how he would feel, he would say, 'well let's change the key of the song.' And I'd be like, 'Well you can't, because I don't really know how to play like that.' And I know that might be surprising to some people, but there are a lot of groups that have members that work that way. I know people look at me as though I'm the main musician. I'm a music maker but I'm not a musician of that caliber."
During our phone interview, Coyne was at a Starbucks parking lot at 1:30 in the afternoon, poised to revive himself with his usual venti iced soy latte. He'd been up until 4:30 am the night before, having wrangled Ke$ha into recording a vocal track on a Stone Roses cover the band has been working on. In the past few years the band has collaborated with folks like Jim James, Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Neon Indian, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Lightning Bolt, Nick Cave and many, many more.
"Jimmy Page said no, but we kind of thought even a note from Jimmy Page is pretty good," says Coyne.
In 2011, they released a seven-pound gummi skull containing a flash drive with an EP on it. And put out a new song every month. And recorded and released a six-hour song, and then a 24-hour song. The 24-hour song was then released in a limited edition of 13 on a flash drive enclosed in a real human skull. Last year, they set a world record for playing eight shows in a 24-hour period.
The band members are no strangers to experimentation.
"I know that we're still working on a Flaming Lips effects pedal that would randomly pick up signals off the internet and run them through a little filter," says Coyne. "Regardless of what the content was it would feed it through this little filter. And I think it had some kind of infrared button on it that lets the warmth of your hand fuck with it... or something."
Despite the band's fame, Coyne has remained more-or-less down-to-earth (in a socially conscious way, anyway) eschewing New York and L.A. to stay at home in Oklahoma City. In the days following the deadly tornadoes that devastated other parts of town, he attempted to adopt a homeless dog from the shelter, but was turned away lest some of the newly-captured animals' owners showed up to claim them. He went home dogless.
"About four hours later this giant tornado hit," says Coyne. "I didn't get damage from the tornado, but all this rain came and flooded my house, and in the flood there was a dog. So I got a tornado dog. Even though it wasn't the way I thought I was going to get one. He floated in with the water, and we're like, 'Well, goddamn, here's a dog.' He didn't have any tags or anything. We washed him and put some signs up and just kind of like, well, we'll just take him. He was so smelly. That was part of the reason why we decided to keep him. It seemed as though he'd probably been a stray on the streets, probably his whole life and he was so smelly that we called him stink dog. So that's his name: Stink Dog.