In an undisclosed rehearsal space somewhere in Bricktown, probably not far from the alley that's named after them, The Flaming Lips have been earnestly relearning songs from the album that redefined them as a band going into the 21st century.
1999's â€œThe Soft Bulletinâ€ already is considered a contemporary classic in the experimental pop idiom, right up there with works such as Pink Floyd's â€œThe Dark Side of the Moon,â€ a profound influence on the Lips, who covered that 1973 diamond in its entirety after midnight last New Year's Eve at Cox Convention Center.
Tonight, same time, same place, Oklahoma City's masters of the neo-psychedelic rock universe will perform their own album masterpiece from start to finish, live onstage for the first time ever.
And to hear Wayne Coyne tell it, this year's musical leap is every bit as daunting as last's.
â€œYou know, some of the songs we've never played (live) before,â€ the Lips leader said during a break in show preparations last week.
â€œSo it's kind of thrilling from a musical standpoint, but also kind of nerve-wracking from a musical standpoint, 'cause it's difficult music. I don't know, some people wouldn't know â€˜The Soft Bulletin' that much, but some of the tracks are just, they're these humongous, strangely played (songs).â€
Having already taken broad steps into the realm of the untried and outrageous with 1997's â€œZaireeka,â€ an album made up of four discs designed to be played in synchronization on four different players, the Lips took another giant stride into a wide, wild world of symphonic and melodic eccentricities, a world of skewed musical beauty that was light years beyond the punk- and noise-pop territory where they'd begun.
â€œWhen we were doing â€˜The Soft Bulletin,' I mean like we do all our records, you don't consider can you really play this stuff (live). You just make music any way you can (in the studio) and get on with it,â€ Coyne said.
So, to sonically bolster the onstage lineup tonight, the Lips are bringing guest multi-instrumentalist Ray Suen (The Killers) onboard, turning the band into a sextet when you count frontman Coyne, multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, bassist Michael Ivins, drummer Kliph Scurlock and newest member Derek Brown, a local all-purpose player who's toured with The Starlight Mints, Liz Phair, Steve Burns and The Chainsaw Kittens, among
Brown also serves as Business Development Center manager for the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma, established by Lips manager Scott Booker.
Tonight's show will open at 8:30 with Stardeath and White Dwarfs, fronted by Wayne's nephew, Dennis Coyne, before the Lips take the stage for their regular set, followed at midnight by the â€œSoft Bulletinâ€ performance.
â€œI believe I'm gonna go over to the Thunder game at halftime and then tell everybody to come on over to the Cox Center when they get done, and probably have a special ticket price for the people that come in later,â€ Coyne said. â€œThat's just to kind of include everybody. ... And if you're loaded at the Thunder's game, you only have to walk 20 feet to go to a Flaming Lips show.â€
As for â€œThe Soft Bulletinâ€ late show, fans can expect note-perfect readings of the album's most popular tunes, including the exhilaratingly anthemic â€œRace for the Prizeâ€ and the heart-meltingly hopeful â€œWaitin' for a Superman,â€ along with more obscure and complex numbers such as the dreamlike â€œSlow Motionâ€; Coyne's moving, autobiographical message of friendship to his partners Drozd and Ivins, â€œThe Spiderbite Songâ€; and the sublimely trippy â€œBuggin'.â€
â€œWe have tried to play them, and I didn't feel like they were very successful, so that's really where the work is, to try to not just play them, because as notes and things go, it's not hard to play, but it's hard to find where is the dynamic in some of that stuff,â€ Coyne said. â€œIt's tough.â€
Coyne is fully aware that â€œThe Soft Bulletinâ€ represented a crucial turning point in The Flaming Lips' career and remains one their biggest fan favorites, so he wants to get it right.
â€œIf that one hadn't been as successful or revered as it is, I don't know what we would've made of ourselves,â€ he said. â€œI think we felt this strange confidence that we should just do this music, this art, this sound, this thing that we wanted to do, and not give a s---. And part of us was very defeated and insecure, thinking that maybe perhaps this is the end of our group. ... We started in '83, so by the time you get to 1999, we'd been around a long time, even by then.â€
It took about a year for â€œThe Soft Bulletinâ€ to really start catching on with critics and longtime fans, and when it started attracting new followers, the Lips knew the ride was far from over.
â€œAnd then it started to really snowball,â€ Coyne said. â€œLike, â€˜Hey, you know, this is one of those records.' And that's really what set us on to where we are, even now. I think without that thing happening, I think we could have easily disappeared into just being some weirdos that make interesting music in their living rooms and not be this band that plays and makes records and goes all around the world now.â€
This year marks the completion of the Oklahoma City band's 20-year contract with Warner Bros. Records, and a renewal of the Lips' association with the label is in the works that would have them releasing one or more songs per month on the Internet until they have enough to release a full album in digital and physical formats.
â€œAnd I think we're going to try to tie in a video with each one that ends up being like a bigger conceptual movie in the end, so it sounds like a lot of fun,â€ he said. â€œI mean, to me, when I hear stuff like that, I'm like, â€˜Cool, let's do it, I can't wait.' For me, I still love albums. Put on a record, and for 30 minutes you're in this other world.â€
As for tonight's show, the Lips will transform Cox Convention Center into an otherworldly environment of giant multicolored balloons, blizzards of confetti, rainbow lasers, sparkling mirror balls and, of course, music that frees the heart and mind to soar.
â€œWe realize that by the time you get to 2:30 in the morning, people â€” especially on New Year's Eve â€” can be a little bit zonked out,â€ Coyne said. â€œSo I don't know, that's what you do. Either way, you have to play it as though it's a great show, and whether people can comprehend it is another thing.
â€œBut I want people to come to this thing. Like, come on, people!â€
The Flaming Lips New Year's Eve Freak-Out
â€œThere was this strange mixture of very vulnerable and yet very brave at the same time. And you know, art and music allows that. Because you really just go into your deepest emotions and fears, and that's where your music comes from.â€
â€” Wayne Coyne on the writing