TULSA — Imagine, if you will, a musical matchup of Oklahoma City's world-famously weird psych-pop show band and one of the quintessential stars of the sensitive singer-songwriter school of 1970s Los Angeles, covering the vintage folk songs of a historically revered Dust Bowl troubadour from Okemah.
In short, the Flaming Lips and Jackson Browne singing a song by Woody Guthrie. Together. Onstage.
Sound like science fiction? Well, you won't have to imagine this mind-boggling marriage of styles after attending “This Land Is Your Land: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration” Saturday night at Tulsa's Brady Theatre.
The unlikely pairing of the Lips and Browne will happen before your very eyes, along with performances of Guthrie's songs by John Mellencamp, Woody's son Arlo Guthrie, Rosanne Cash, Del McCoury Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hanson, Tim O'Brien and Jimmy LaFave.
“We've kinda become friends with him over the past three or four years,” Coyne said of Browne in a phone interview from his home in midtown Oklahoma City last week.
“He had played this show out at the Zoo, I think it was right after we had played there (September 2006), and he gave us a shoutout. And of course through Twitter and all these sorts of things you can find out immediately what someone says, and we thought it was just a fun thing that Jackson Browne had acknowledged us, you know, because we're from Oklahoma City, and said hello to us.”
By happy coincidence, Lips manager Scott Booker ran into Browne at Will Rogers World Airport, and the band and the L.A. balladeer got to know each other and started hanging out together whenever their paths crossed. There was even talk between them of a possible musical collaboration, but opportunities were scarce — until they were all invited to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birthday.
“You'd think, well, why would Jackson Browne and The Flaming Lips be together? Well, 'cause he's a cool guy, and that usually is good enough for us,” Coyne said. “I mean, obviously, we like his music as well, but you don't really get a say in what circles you get to hang out in all the time. And someone like Jackson Browne, you don't (often) get to go up and say, ‘Hey, you wanna go out to dinner and get drunk or something?'”
Impressed by story
Just as unlikely as the Lips-Browne duet is the idea of Wayne “Christmas on Mars” Coyne and company — who grew up on a steady diet of the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd — covering the back-roads, freight-hopping folk tunes of Woody Guthrie.
“Well, I think we've all heard versions of his songs probably more than we've even heard him doing his own songs,” Coyne said. “I forget which ones we would hear when we were in school. ‘This land is land is your land, this land is my land, from California' … I think that's probably the one that when we would be singing it, even in school, that I remember thinking that that's a Woody Guthrie song. … But I don't know. I'm more impressed by his story and what he's all about.”
The Lips will be covering “Vigilante Man” and a couple of other Guthrie tunes, including one with Browne, but the selections had yet to be determined at the time of the interview. Coyne did allow that the band would be taking its own unorthodox approach to the material — as if one couldn't guess.
“I don't know how strictly they're going to be dictating the instrumentation,” he said. “When we were first made aware of it, we thought, ‘Oh that'll be fun. We'll use some weird little synthesizers and some things we've got. We'll do it that way. I don't know what all the other artists will do. I mean, I have a pretty good idea what they'll do.
“And I just thought, well, we'll just do somethin' different, and I don't know if they'll particularly like it, but I think it'll at least be different … So I think we're gonna go up there and use some synthesizers that you set up real quickly. No one is doing a big setup, I don't believe. And so I think most people are just walking up to the microphone with an acoustic guitar and
“So I think we're gonna walk up to the microphones with a couple synthesizers and say, ‘Here's what we think Woody would do if he was alive today, and trying to communicate with as much power and as much expression, and efficiently as he always did when he was busking around and playing in people's living rooms and things.'”
Putting their own eccentric stamp on other artists' material is nothing new to the Lips, who've covered everyone from Queen to Neil Young, and radically renovated Pink Floyd's “The Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety in 2010.
And they're no strangers to collaboration with other musicians, having spent much of 2011 recording with the likes of Neon Indian, Lightning Bolt and Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, with whom they shared the Bricktown Events Center stage on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
The Lips have cut additional tracks with a diverse parade of acts including Bon Iver, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Nick Cave, Erykah Badu,
Those collaborations will be collected on an album set for release on Record Store Day, April 21.
“It's gonna be a great addition to the Flaming Lips catalog that's already out there,” Coyne said. “It's just so insane; things that you just shouldn't do on your own 'cause you've got these other people
Meanwhile, he's got a date to collaborate with Browne and a host of others in celebrating the life and music of the granddaddy of Oklahoma-bred singer-songwriters, and Coyne plans to do right by him.
“It's just a lot of words to remember, which is something I'm not particularly good at,” Coyne said of Guthrie's songs. “I'm good at remembering my own dumb Flaming Lips songs, but I'm not that good at remembering longer sort of protest rants like some of his get to be. I'm not worried about it. When the time comes I buckle down and do what I gotta do. You know?”
This Land Is Your Land: A Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert