Flaming Lips going to heat up Belly Up

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The Flaming Lips, led by Wayne Coyne, will return to Belly Up Aspen for a two-night run, Jan. 2 and 3.
Aspen Times file |

If You Go …

What: The Flaming Lips

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Friday, Jan 2 and Saturday, Jan. 3, 9 p.m.

Tickets and more info:

After The Flaming Lips rang in 2014 on stage at Belly Up Aspen, it turned out to be an unpredictable year for the Oklahoma freak rock band, even by its very unpredictable standards.

The year saw the band starring in a Super Bowl commercial for Hyundai, collaborating with teen idol gone wild Miley Cyrus and releasing an album-length tribute to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Titled “With a Little Help From My Fwends,” the album featured the Lips and collaborators like Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan covering the Fab Four. Local fans actually may have predicted that one, as last year’s shows here included a cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

The Lips have become semi-regulars at Belly Up over the last five years, playing several shows around this time of year in the Galena Street club. They return for a two-night stand Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. Their mix of stage theatrics, folk and rock have made for singular experiences in each local outing since 2010.

At the first show here, front man Wayne Coyne popped his signature “space bubble” – a human-sized hamster wheel in which he surfs on crowds – while attempting to roll off the stage.

The local shows have been among the few small venue appearances the band has made in recent years, but they haven’t been shy about breaking out their full bag of tricks: confetti canons, massive mirror balls, Coyne’s prosthetic laser-shooting hands, balloons and, of course, the space bubble.

“Whenever I hear music, I ask, ‘What’s the visual that goes with that?’” Coyne told the Aspen Times during one of the band’s year-end swings through town. “Whenever I see something visual, I think, ‘What’s the sound of that?’”

Last time around, despite the confetti canons, the Lips played an extraordinarily restrained show during their first of two concerts. Coyne, who normally scurries about the stage, stood nearly motionless on a riser. The show included a slowed down take on the normally exuberant “Race for the Prize,” which turned the celebratory chorus of “They’re just humans with wives and children” into a painful lament. It went to show, you never know what they’re going to bring to town.

Coyne and his merry pranksters play an inimitable brand of rock, a Pink Floyd-tinged sound they’ve perfected since they started playing together more than 30 years ago. They’ve had just one bona fide commercial hit, 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly,” but came into their own creatively with 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin.”

It was around then that they started adding all the bells and whistles to their live shows and earning a reputation as the best spectacle on the festival circuit.

“We just thought we had nothing to lose by being a group that tried weird things,” Coyne said. “It was, ‘What more can we do?’ And that freed us up – I could throw confetti and use puppets. I put myself in the audience and think: What would I want to see?”

Their songs can tend toward the surreal, like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” but more often the Flaming Lips tread some serious existential ground. Their last album of originals, 2013’s “The Terror,” was a dark and atmospheric trip. Coyne’s lyrical focus on the dark side, curiously, led to the the joyful and cathartic fun we’ve come to expect out of their live shows.

“I don’t want to bum the people out,” he said. “I don’t want the audience to go home and blow their brains out. I want them laughing and enjoying themselves, so we have balloons. I’d do whatever I could to communicate to them that this was entertainment. We knew we were singing about things so personal and powerful that, if they internalized it, it wouldn’t be fun. A lot of times, people look at the guys onstage and say, ‘Yeah, I want to be like them.’”

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