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Close Encounters of the Flaming Lips Kind

The Oklahoma band’s stage show blasts off with a custom mothership

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips performing at The Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

Drew Farrell / Retna UK Ltd / Getty

This summer, the Flaming Lips will add an even higher level of spectacle to their legendary live shows, landing a massive pink P-Funk-style spaceship onstage and giving audiences hundreds of laser pens to shoot at frontman Wayne Coyne. The band, whose latest album, At War With the Mystics, debuted at a career-high Number Eleven, will roll out its new tricks on a trans-Atlantic summer tour (with stops at Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Austin City Limits Music festival).

“I love the idea of putting the audience to work a little bit: You’re here, you may as well have something to do,” says Coyne, who designs the band’s stage sets and gave Rolling Stone a peek at his sketches for the group’s summer tour. “I don’t know what kind of irreparable bone cancer or damage the laser pointers will do, but the show could really be spectacular.”

Review: The Flaming Lips, At War with the Mystics

As in the past, the gigs will feature torrents of confetti and balloons, as well as dancers dressed as animals, the sun and – new for this summer – Jesus and Santa Claus. Coyne will emerge from the spaceship in a giant plastic bubble, roll down a plank onto an elliptical stage reminiscent of U2‘s 2005 Vertigo tour setup and, finally, surf the bubble over the crowd as he did at Coachella last year.

The Lips’ innovative live shows date back to the early 1980s, when they were hardcore punks in Norman, Oklahoma. “We’d take a smoke machine into a place that fits sixty people, like an American Legion hall, and literally fill the whole place up to where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” says Coyne, who also produces original video footage to be projected above the stage. “Suddenly, you transform a boring atmosphere into some kind of magical cave where almost anything can happen.”

This story is from the May 18th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.


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