New Year's Eve Freakout!!
with The Flaming Lips and
Stardeath and White Dwarfs
8:30 p.m. Thursday
Cox Con vention Center
1 Myriad Gardens
For most people, celebrating New Year's Eve means looking forward to what will come and making resolutions to ensure the impending year far exceeds the last.
For local and traveling fans of The Flaming Lips, recent observances have occurred while watching the same band, on the same night, several years in a row. In the same city. At the same venue.
Ironic? Sure, but by now, you probably know that irony is par for the Lips' course. Among the many conundrums presented by the Oklahoma City-based group: mystery versus transparency, wackiness versus intensity, and spontaneity versus " well, OK. There's that.
Last year was good to the Lips. The band's "Do You Realize??" was named the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma, the musicians headlined multiple music festivals in all corners of the world and, most recently, released their 12th studio album.
Sonically, "Embryonic," birthed in October, is a measurable departure from the Lips' recent fare. At once brooding and authoritative, it finds Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, and Kliph Scurlock in uncharted musical territory. The album garnered some considerable critical acclaim, and, somewhat to the band's surprise, has been generally wellreceived
"I know that we were really pleased when we finished it, but you never know what other people are going to think," Scurlock said. "There are some old fans who didn't love 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' and 'At War with the Mystics' as much as some of the old ones, and they seem to really like 'Embryonic.' I haven't seen many negative reactions to the album, which is awesome."
The shift, like many of the Lips' endeavors, wasn't exactly premeditated.
"I think it just kind of happened," Coyne said. "Virtually everything we've done that's unique and good and spontaneous and all those adjectives you want to put with art and music, it all
happens because we think we're working on something else. We're very aware that what we're really doing is accepting the great, unknowable accidents. We knew it would be thought of as strange, but I don't think it's utterly strange, for all the weird things The Flaming Lips do. It's definitely not as poppy as 'Yoshimi,' for sure, but we feel like our audience is up for a challenge here and there. It's not devoid of the old Flaming Lips, but it's definitely weird. In a good way."
More than a quarter century after the group's formation, "Embryonic" also clenched the Lips' first-ever top 10 Billboard slot " an achievement that, while not to be taken lightly, Coyne credits to something other than record sales.
"If we went back 20 years, being in the top 10 meant we would have sold half a million records, whereas now, you can do that with 50,000," he said. "I
don't want to say that it's not significant; it means something to the casual music listener that something so strange is also" not mainstream, but close enough. I think more people are interested in more types of music now than ever before. Even though they're not buying music the same way, they have it, and they want it and are getting it more than ever. It doesn't have to be on TV or in a magazine or in front of them at a record store. They can just pick and choose for themselves, and I think that's good news."
The proliferation of home music buyers is actually responsible for another twist of Lips fate. Thursday's "New Year's Eve Freakout!!" again includes sets by the Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs. At midnight, however, the two will take the stage together to perform Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album in its entirety.
"It was a fluke," explained Stardeath front man Dennis Coyne, also the Lips
leader's nephew. "iTunes approached both of us; they wanted us to get together and
do six or seven brand new songs as an iTunes exclusive. Our record had come
out a few months earlier, and the Lips record was about to come out, and we all thought, 'Oh, man, we don't want to record new songs!'"
"They said, 'You guys must have tracks lying around you could give us,'" Wayne Coyne said. "I said, 'I don't!' At the time, we were playing shows and getting ready to go to Europe, so we
didn't have any kind of free time to write. I was in the back of a car with Scott (Booker, the Lips' manager) at the time, and I said, 'Why don't we just rerecord 'Dark Side of the Moon' or something? We'll just cover that.' Scott said, 'We'll see.'"
Initially, the project was a pipe dream, Dennis Coyne said, and both groups were unsure if iTunes and Pink Floyd would even sign on to the idea. "The next thing we knew, though, we were starting to work on it," he said.
Meanwhile, Wayne Coyne said he gave the tribute album "the best kind of thought" he could give it. "Which was, 'I don't give a shit,' he said. "Those always work the best."
Tracked at Bell Labs in Norman, "Dark Side of the Moon" was released by iTunes on Dec. 22. The album was made available to other digital music outlets yesterday. The project features appearances by Peaches and the hardcore rock icon Henry Rollins, who performed its spoken-word portions.
"Having Henry Rollins be a part of it is just completely absurd," Wayne Coyne said. "He's probably one of the only people who, if he said, 'I don't really listen to Pink Floyd,' you would
say, 'I know. I know you don't. I can tell.' When we approached him, we thought he'd say, 'This is absurd. I'll do it,' And he did."
Already one of his favorite records, "Dark Side" daunted Dennis Coyne, who worried about re-imagining the seminal songs. "It was stressful at first, but once we got into the studio, it kinda just became fun. It never seemed too serious," he said.
"Those things just seem to work out," Wayne Coyne said. "At the end, you say, 'That could've been really terrible,' but instead, it's really great, and once we recorded it, we thought it
might be possible for us to perform it."
Both bands subsequently decided there was no better time to light up "Dark Side" than on New Year's Eve. In the grand tradition of Pink Floyd and, well, the Lips, this year's stage setup
features what Coyne, in the show's online teaser, called "the world's biggest mirror ball." Given that he accidentally promised to build a UFO a few years ago and consequently had to deliver, claiming to possess the world's largest anything is pretty bold. What, then, can fans expect Thursday night?
"New Year's is always us going, 'Let's try new things. Let's try our new gadgets out.' I never feel like we have to make it bigger and better; the audience does all the work for us, really. It's
easy for us to supply the things you'll be standing in front of to make it worthy of some picture on your phone and a good story the next day," he said. "I had some local guys weld the initial structure, and Dennis and one of my brothers spent maybe two weeks gluing on the mirrors. There's one I've seen in England somewhere that's bigger, I think, but it doesn't travel, and it doesn't spin, and it doesn't have lights on it. I know from the guy who made theirs that mine is bigger than Pink Floyd's, so come on"¦ that's impressive. I'm not trying to compete; I just think it would be funny to look up and say, 'That's the world's largest mirror ball.' And maybe it is."
Coyne proffers that the Lips never officially retire any of their antics, but tomorrow's bill seems markedly different than in years past. In addition to the "Dark Side of the Moon" performance
and the "world's biggest" mirror ball where a UFO used to be, the show will be the first since "Embryonic"'s release that the Lips have performed the new material at home.
"It's a lot more intense," Coyne said. "There are songs like 'Do You Realize??' " it's not that we struggle with them, but there's an element of trying to play those with intensity and still retain what the song is about. Playing live, you want to speed things up and exaggerate them, and sometimes songs can't hold up to that. They are what they are. But with these songs, from 'Embryonic,' they're perfectly suited for us to play intensely. They're these freaky, loud songs. In the moment, you can almost do no wrong, the more intense and louder you want to play them. We love playing freaky music, but if it's too intense for too long, it just beats you up. We play a couple of these and then do some of our mellower songs. It's a good balance."
Previously, the Lips have faced logistical problems plaguing any act performing late at night, on New Year's Eve, in Oklahoma City, in a convention center. However, Coyne said that as the concert enters its third year, the New Year's Eve show finally has earned the trust of the Cox Convention Center's brass.
"There's a reason why when you go to a hockey game or a concert downtown,
they're done by 10 p.m.," he said. "There's a giant security staff manning
the structure, so I don't know. Like a lot of things, we're gonna do it and see how it works. I don't know if you'll be able to buy anything to drink after midnight; we'll try to keep some concessions and things like that. In the first year, that wouldn't have been possible, but by the third year, we're doing 'Dark Side of the Moon' and we have the world's biggest mirror ball. Imagine what it'll be 20 years into it. We'll probably be levitating by then."