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Love those Lips

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com
Vail CO Colorado
Special to the DailyThe Flaming Lips close the inaugural Snow Ball Music Fest in Avon on Sunday.
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The Flaming Lips were weird long before it was en vogue. The Oklahoma City-based band is approaching its 30th birthday and the band is perhaps more popular than ever, though still not entirely mainstream. So what accounts for their success?

“Geez, that’s the mystery,” said lead singer Wayne Coyne during a phone interview from SoHo in New York City. “I ask that all the time. It’s not like we’re mega successful. We’re successful to people who love music … I would say if you love Lady Gaga, you probably don’t love us. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Lady Gaga.”

For Coyne, a revered hometown hero in Oklahoma City (the state song is the Lips “Do You Realize” from their ever-popular 2002 release “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”), the Lips success is just about right.

“There’s a lot of that sort of riff raff that comes with mega success – people who like you just because you’re popular,” he said. “We gain a new fan every day, but they’re people who want to be absorbed in this thing, and understand it.”

Confetti carnivals

So what is “this thing” exactly?

If you’ve seen a Flaming Lips show, you know. And if you search “Wayne Coyne Hamster Ball” on YouTube, you can watch. The Lips live shows are wild, confetti-soaked carnivals.

Just ask Eagle-Vail resident Alex Gentry who saw them play with Ween at Red Rocks a few years back.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, or if you like their music at all, really. You will love their live performance,” said Gentry as he waited at an Eagle-Vail bus stop Friday to catch the bus into Avon for the Snow Ball festival, which Flaming Lips will play the finale for Sunday. “I was absolutely floored by their show.”

It was partly the fact that Coyne indeed traversed atop the audience inside a giant see-through hamster ball, all the while singing, and partly the people who were on stage dressed as elves, dwarves and Santa Claus that prompted Gentry to call the show “non-stop entertainment.”

Gentry, who hosts a show called Case of The Mondays on Radio Free Minturn each week, doesn’t often listen to the Lips when he’s just hanging around at home, but he said he’d “pay money to see them anytime they play near here. The concert is that much of a spectacle, or just spectacular, if you will.

“I’m dragging my girlfriend to their show on Sunday because she needs to see them live,” he continued.

How many other bands can claim such loyal fans after only seeing them live one time? Not many. But that’s pretty typical for Lips fans, who proudly proclaim their allegiance, often dressing up in crazy costumes at the shows, or stipping down to near nakedness and painting themselves bright green.

“If there’s anyone who’s ever said ‘I’m going to go and dress up as a pink dragon’ or whatever you want to be, now is the time,” Coyne said. “We had a couple of kids come to a Columbus show over the summer dressed in giant fur vaginal-looking costumes.”

Not risk adverse

Much of the band’s succcess likely has to do with the regular risks they take. The band was firmly alternative for nearly a decade before the genre really caught on. Their layered psychadelic rock music – a pileup of pop, noise, electronic and progressive rock – is without a doubt adventurous. The band members themselves are pretty risky, too. Lead guitarist Steven Drozd struggled with a heroin addiction that was very openly captured in the 2005 documentary about the band, “Fearless Freaks.” Coyne lives in the shady neighborhood he and his brothers grew up in Oklahoma City, with a “crazy, drug-infested bunch of weirdos,” he said.

One thing is for sure, Coyne is without fail, dead honest.

A Tweet he posted Friday is a cell phone pic of him and Courtney Love and these words: “Ran into Courtney Love at the party … she is grabbing my butt in the second pic.”

On the phone, he comes across as very genuine and definitely a no-bullshit type of guy. The man did work at Long John Silvers as a teenager, after all (where he was robbed at gunpoint, no less).

“I learned a lot about being real and humble and about what real work is there,” he said. “Real work is not always interesting. It’s boring and you have to make your days interesting.”

He only left the chain restaurant because he wanted to make music, he said – “and plus you can’t make any money.”

Coyne and his bandmates fly their freak flags proudly, and encourage the same out of their “like-minded weirdo fans.”

“There’s something very Grateful Dead about us – men with bad haircuts making a life their own, living on the road, making art. I see where that appeals to a certain American dream out there. I mean that in the best way. I love it. I’m so, so glad that we are not an irrelevant bunch of old rockers. I’m so glad that when we get included in things where it seems like every one there is in their 20s and I’m 50. It’s wonderful.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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