Earlier this year, the Flaming Lips released a series of videos on Funny Or Die in which they “sold out,” licensing the band name for a Michael Bay-directed film, a tie-in chapstick and e-cigarettes. It was all a big April Fool’s prank, but as the Lips took the stage at Waterfront Park on Sunday, surrounded by banners emblazoned with the AT&T logo and ads for the MLS All-Star Game, the joke didn’t seem too far from reality. Still, even though frontman Wayne Coyne thanked the corporate sponsors for bringing them out, the band put on a quintessential Flaming Lips show, playing its hits while giant mushrooms, aliens and a shining sun danced onstage.
In addition to sparkly-dressed Lips fans, corporate bigwigs and folks just there for the soccer game, the concert attracted a small contingent of protesters still angry with Coyne for recent incidents involving Native American headdresses. Most of the dissidents stayed outside the park gates, but a few made it into the crowd. One woman, holding a sign reading “Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne disrespects Native Americans,” was escorted out by concert security. A young man, whose hot pink sign read “Culture is not a costume,” stuck around longer. When Coyne took to the crowd in his signature bubble, he rolled right over the picketer, who stuck his words of protest flat against the side of the sphere until someone else in the audience tore a piece out of the sign. If Coyne noticed, he didn’t let on.
Fred Armisen was also around. After briefly popping onstage after Radiation City’s excellent opening set to snap a cell phone shot of the Lips’ guitars, he came out to introduce Coyne and company—and then did it again before each of the next two songs. By the time the sci-fi balladry of “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1” blended into the spaced-out intro of “In the Morning of Magicians,” Armisen retired his joke, having probably decided to let the band do its thing.
Despite a drop in energy in the middle of the set, the band’s routine was in full form. Coyne sang the tail end of the show atop an LED-covered platform while sporting a shiny blue suit. While he supplied the theatrics, and lent his whiny voice to tender moments like regular-set closer “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton,” the show’s true musical pyrotechnics came courtesy of Stephen Drozd, who offered up minimalist guitar solos, crushingly heavy drums and powerful vocals while wearing blue makeup and a silver cape.
When the band came out for its two-song encore, adoring fans formed heart shapes with their hands and sang along with the ever-popular power ballad “Do You Realize??” And with the ultimate closer, a tasteful update of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" recently recorded with Miley Cyrus, the Lips finally got all those disparate crowds who turned up to shout along together. “This is one of the best places to play in the world,” Coyne said.
BONUS! AN INTERVIEW WITH WAYNE COYNE
Before the show, Coyne spoke with WW at the Riverplace Hotel. Though he looked worlds away from his onstage persona, wearing a slim-fitting T-shirt and jeans, he still had blue plastic stars stuck to his face and a “Miley” bracelet around his wrist. He wasn’t answering questions about headdresses (he’s already made his statement), but he did talk about the Flaming Lips’ upcoming projects and his role as a mentor to his up-and-coming collaborators.
WIllamette Week: What’s the intent behind this new Sgt. Pepper’s cover album?
Wayne Coyne: There’s four types of people that will hear this record: The people that know every nuance of the Beatles—like musicians and stuff—who will love it, and then there’s people that will know every nuance of the Beatles who will absolutely hate it because you’re not supposed to touch the Beatles. It’s the most sacred thing out there. And then there are some people that like the Beatles and don’t know much about them, and some of it they’ll love and some of it they’ll just think is too weird. And then there’s people who only know Miley Cyrus. But I honestly think that, especially those younger people that are maybe 16 or 17 years old, I think that they’ll hear it, and they’re gonna be like I was when I was 16. It’s just music. You don’t have this gauge in your mind of like, "this is cool music and this isn’t cool and this is good music and this is bad." I mean, we recorded with Miley just because we’re friends, but it occurred to me that some of these people will be quite young. I think what will happen is, they’ll hear it and somebody will probably tell them they shouldn’t like it. And they may believe that, but later in life, if they love music, they’re going to remember that.
But you’ve already done a Pink Floyd project before this.
In 2009, we did a cover of Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon,” and it was supposed to be a B-side or a bonus track that you get when you download it off of iTunes. And we weren’t even serious about it. Just as a joke, I said, “Well, we could probably do a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’” In my mind I was like, “I’m joking,” but they were like, “Well, that could be cool.” A lot of times when you make a joke it really is coming from an area of truth. Even with Pink Floyd, there’s people that absolutely love everything they’ve done, know every second that they’ve done, that love what we did. And then there’s people that are just the opposite: They know everything but they will kill you if they see you on the street because you’ve touched Pink Floyd’s music. So I think we’ve already weathered the storm quite a bit with that.
But another project, the Funny or Die Pink Floyd companion album, was entirely a joke, right?
I think there was a feeling that this may just digress into a bunch of joking around about the music, but it didn’t. I mean, we know that record so well, and I’m not a good musician, but some of the fellows, they can play absolutely anything. I’m just doing things that make a lot of noise. We were in a fairly big studio and there were a lot of people there—production of Funny or Die and just a lot of people—and they couldn’t hear that we were listening to the record, they could just hear what we were playing. We got done with it, and they stood up and applauded it like, “Damn that was great!” And then we listened to just a little bit of it back, and it was amazing that if you didn’t know that Pink Floyd was playing underneath it, it has these uncanny changes and notes. I don’t know if we’ll ever really release it. We still are considering it.
Is the Beatles project coming from a more serious place?
We’d thought about doing Sgt. Pepper—I don’t know why we picked that one but we’d thought about doing it over the past couple of years anyway. But we did these two New Years Eve shows, and on the second night, we decided that we would do this John Lennon Beatles set. And “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was definitely the high point. I don’t know why, we’d just worked out this great Flaming Lips arrangement. We would continue to play it after that, and you could see that even people who didn’t know the song that well were getting something out of it. When I ran into Miley Cyrus we had only a day and a night to record it. She’s a great singer. I wouldn’t know who are the manufactured ones out there—I mean I don’t know Britney Spears or other people she gets compared to. Even when I’ve worked with Kesha, she’s absolutely the real deal. I mean, I’m fake compared to them. I do things all the time where I do a hundred takes and we chop it all together and use Auto-Tune. I have no rules, as long as it’s good and sounds cool I don’t care how we get there. But [Miley] can really sing, so you get these nuances. We only did three or four different takes and the first one was definitely the one. It looks like a very organized campaign, but it wasn’t at all. I just finished the rest of the music late, late, late Friday night.
How’s it been working with so many interesting younger musicians recently?
When I was younger, we would do music and it would be very precious to us. It would be like, “this is our music,” and “someone’s going to fuck it up.” And it’s just not true. If someone has imagination and if they feel like they are original, it’s like, prove it. And if you are, then you’ll do a hundred things, and it’ll be in there. But if you want to sit there and think, “I can’t do anything because I have to be imaginative and original,” you usually don’t do anything. That’s the biggest dilemma I run into, especially with young artists. They’ll sit there and say, “I don’t want to do something that’s bad.” And I’m like, “Well, you’re never going to do anything.” I mean everything you do is bad. Everybody feels that way. John Lennon hated “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” But I’m glad he wasn’t the one that got to say whether it came out or not.
Do you feel like you’ve become a mentor to some of these collaborators?
If I get involved, I try my best to take it over and make it my thing. But I don’t know if it’s [mentoring]. I think people that like the Flaming Lips, they like that part of it already, or they wouldn’t be in my sphere. Someone like a Miley Cyrus, I can’t just call her, she’s gotta call me. I mean I do that sometimes—after Bonnaroo I was like, “we ought to get Kanye on this record.” I didn’t think we would, but I just thought, fuck it, you’re not gonna know unless you ask. But Kanye’s not going to call. A lot of it is you just run into people who are already reaching out to you. But sometimes you run into people who are just not as freaky as you think they’re gonna be—their music is freaky but they’re very cautious. When I was younger I would do the same thing, but I’m not really like that anymore. Some of the greatest records ever made were made by people in a hurry. People say, “How did they do that?” And I think I know how because they just fucking started doing it, not worried about every little nuance along the way. This idea that you have to be in love with everything that you do is not true.