There is no band quite like the Flaming Lips. Few rock groups are critically acclaimed with a substantial loyal audience and have been around for 40 years. On top of that, the Lips have been with a major label, Warner Brothers, for three decades. Sonic Youth and Radiohead are comparable, but the Flaming Lips are weirder.
The Oklahoma City-based band has its share of unlikely hits. “She Don’t Use Jelly,” from 1993’s “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart,” was a surprising top 40 hit. It’s even more bizarre looking back at that tour when the left of center Lips opened for the conventional and predictable Candlebox. It was a taste of what was to come since the Lips teased with a brightly lit but small backdrop as tour support.
There is no band as successful as the Flaming Lips who have been so refreshingly strange. What other recording artist showcases a major label release in a parking garage? The Flaming Lips decided to do so on a number of occasions at South By Southwest in Austin.
It can be an effort to be a Flaming Lips fan but the energy expended is worth the trouble. The Flaming Lips’ live show is a joyful spectacle dating back to the ’90s.
(The biggest challenge recently, of course, has actually been being able to see them. They last played in Spokane in 2017, and had a show in early 2020 postponed because of the pandemic, only to see it ultimately canceled in 2021.)
The Lips, who will perform Sunday at the Knitting Factory, upped the ante over the past quarter century as a live act, with ornate unicorns, inflated robots and vocalist-guitarist Wayne Coyne performing inside a giant plastic ball, a concept appropriated by country-pop act Sugarland.
“All of the things we have onstage is just a diversion,” Coyne said while calling from his Oklahoma City home. “It takes the audience’s attention from us. Our live show is fun. The fans like it but for us it’s about the music. That’s our focal point.”
The Flaming Lips have been remarkably consistent for a very long time. The band, which also includes keyboardist Derek Brown and percussionists Matt Duckworth Kirksey and Nicholas Ley, has crafted 24 albums and none are clunkers.
“We put a lot into every song but it’s what we do,” Coyne said. “If we didn’t love this we would have stopped a long time ago.”
The benefit of being part of such a well-respected band is that acclaimed peers want to work with a band like the Flaming Lips.
Nick Cave, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Kevin Turner of Tame Impala, Kacey Musgraves and Miley Cyrus are among those who have joined Flaming Lips in the studio.
“Creating with such diverse and unique artists has been very cool,” Coyne said. “I’ve enjoyed working with each and every one of them.”
The Flaming Lips are always in the studio when they’re not on tour. “Where the Viaduct Looms,” the latest Lips album, is a collection of Nick Cave covers sung by 13-year old Canadian singer Nell Smith. Who else takes such a chance but the Flaming Lips?
“We do what we want to do in this band,” Coyne said. “It’s never predictable with us and maybe that’s why it’s always been so much fun.”
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