The Flaming Lips delivered a full package at Willow Island on Saturday, showering the crowd with both "music" and an "experience" during their headlining set. Blending their innovative, alternative music with experimental visual splendor, the final hours of the day-long festival brought an explosion of aural elation.
So where did this idea to mix spectacle with their sound emerge? "There wasn't one specific day," explains Wayne Coyne, lead singer for the Flaming Lips. "We stopped trying to be cool and started being who we were; we're just big dorks." He says that being able to do what they wanted on stage just felt right and he hopes that the fans would understand and embrace the chaos.
Indeed they did.
Audience members were dressed up in various outfits from bee keepers to aliens in homage to the Lips and their cosmic style. The band reciprocated in turn with an outrageously fun set list including old cuts, recent favorites and a ton of confetti, streamers, and laughter.
Coyne was like a little kid in a strawberry-scented candy store, laughing with band members Steven Drozd, Kliph Scurlock, and Michael Ivins, the latter of whom was decked out in a full-body skeleton suit. How does he keep the energy and enthusiasm up even when playing older numbers like "She Don't Use Jelly?"
"Why wouldn't I be happy, man?" Coyne says seriously with his warm Oklahoman accent. Playing the music he loves is much more than a job to him, which is also why he respects his fans and does not shy away from signing autographs, having a quick conversation or snapping a photo.
"I hate bands that are all, 'Get away from me,' that's silly! It's like inviting someone to a party and not letting them talk to you."
Coyne's warm, friendly nature is just as giving off stage as it is on it. David Beeman, tour manager and production dude for the Cold War Kids notes that The Flaming Lips were one of the nicest bands he's had the pleasure of touring with. But the feeling doesn't just remain backstage, the fans feel it too.
As Coyne rolled amidst the crowd in his trademark huge plastic bubble, hands went up shotgun-fast to keep their man afloat. Beyond love for the music, the crowd respects the interactive world created by the Flaming Lips.
I ask Coyne if he'd ever been zorbing, a popular adventure sport involving rolling down a hill in a big, padded plastic bubble. "I never have. I tried to get one, but they wouldn't give one to me so it never happened," he says "It would be a bit too heavy for people to hold me up -- it's got all those things inside and stuff. And besides, people couldn't see me and I couldn't see them! So I use the other one and it works well."
Coyne explains he wasn't really into thrill-seeking stuff, but then this is from a man whose life includes shooting strawberry smoke and confetti guns at thousands of people in between sessions of banging a gong.
The Flaming Lips played "Do You Realize?", "Free Radicals," and many other songs, all enhanced by whirs, blips and beeps provided by Drodz. Before "The W.A.N.D," Coyne told the audience a story about the history of the bugle and the manner in which it was created to play "Taps" when a soldier passed. He made this comment to highlight that there are not enough people in the U.S. armed forces currently to perform the requiem to keep up with the pace of deaths in recent years. Coyne subsequently played the instrument, and I saw some crowd members get teary-eyed.
For me, it was nice to see an artist make a statement about war that was informative rather than preachy. To take the time out to make these sorts of statements and get such a crowd response shows that the Lips know the power of their presence, enough to share some knowledge and food for thought. But what about those who were turned off by the thanking of corporate sponsor Southern Comfort?
"At the end of the day, we get paid for a show that is sponsored or a show that has ticket sales," says Coyne. "I wish all our shows could be free. What would you rather do? Go to a free show or have to spend a lot of money for a ticket? For those who can't afford to buy one, I think free events are great since they make it possible to bring art and music to those who normally couldn't experience it."
Coyne explains that the band has only been met with support by the liquor brand -- he does not see them as some "big, evil company," and at this point, has no problem being attached to them. He also notes that The Flaming Lips are on a major label, Warner Bros., and have always been the creative freedoms they have wanted.
"Not all big companies are bad," Coyne says, "Sometimes you just have realize that money is a part of life, just as much as art is. Without one, there can't be another -- no one realizes how much it costs to put on a show like this. So I am all for it."
No matter what one's personal stance on corporate sponsorship, if you were in the crowd on Saturday evening, there was no denying the heavenly whirlwind that was the Flaming Lips.