By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF ) — One of the most popular modern purveyors of psychedelic rock, the Flaming Lips have been delivering their ever-evolving sounds to ecstatic crowds for well over three decades.
Founded by the Coyne brothers Wayne (guitar) and Mark (lead vocals) along with bassist Michael Ivins in Oklahoma City in 1983, the band initially pursued a fractured mix of punk rock and mind-altering ’60s rock sounds that were parallel to the experimental music being made by future touring partners the Butthole Surfers. While Mark Coyne would depart after the band issued its first EP Hear It Is in 1984, Wayne would take over as both principle singer and de facto band leader.
Even with a steady rotation of players, Coyne and company would further refine their chaotic science on subsequent releases, exploring harder-edged territory that recalled Sonic Youth and early Nirvana on their 1989 effort Telepathic Surgery. The addition of Mercury Rev guitarist Jonathan Donahue soon afterward and the band’s first collaboration with producer Dave Fridmann on the following year’s In a Priest Driven Ambulance proved to be the breakthrough that got the band signed to Warner Bros. Records.
By the time the band scored it’s first big MTV hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” from their second major label album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart in 1993, the Lips had begun to shift to a more ambitious, pop-minded psychedelic sound built around Coyne’s falsetto vocals and layered guitar and synthesizer orchestrations that nodded to the complexities of Brian Wilson’s best work with the Beach Boys. It started a string of critically acclaimed releases — including the audacious four-disc experiment Zaireeka, which was designed to be played on four separate sound systems simultaneously, and the lush symphonic masterworks The Soft Bulletin in 1999 and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots three years later — that firmly established the Flaming Lips as a global phenomenon.
Since then, the group has gone even further afield with its experiments, producing the bizarre holiday movie Christmas on Mars in 2008 and several collaborative recording with other bands (a version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon alongside fellow OKC trippers Stardeath and White Dwarf and the guest heavy take on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper entitled With a little Help From My Fwends). Always a live spectacle (the band’s early performances featured multiple strobe lights and fog machines), the Lips’ stage show has gotten progressively more over the top over the years, with dozens of fans populating the stage in animal and alien costumes to heighten the surreal pageant directed by Coyne. His ventures out over the crowd in a large, human-sized hamster ball have become a regular event at each show. The band brings it’s latest tour that revisits some of the classic songs from The Soft Bulletin along with tunes from their latest album, Oczy Mlody. Dutch indie-electronic group Klangstof opens the show, delivering soundscapes that echo the chilly vibes of OK Computer-era Radiohead and Sigur Ros.
The Flaming Lips
Wednesday, May 10, 8 p.m. $49.50