Flaming Lips mastermind Wayne Coyne has a warning for fans looking to see the band on its current tour: “Don’t do too many drugs beforehand.”
“It might overwhelm you,” Coyne says, laughing. “If you took mushrooms before going to the show, you might go insane.”
Flaming Lips shows have always run close to sensory overload, pairing the indie rockers’ music with striking visual displays and performance art pieces. But the tour, which stops at Terminal 5 on March 9 and The Space at Westbury on March 11, takes it all a step further to support the band’s “Oczy Mlody” (Warner Bros.) album.
“There are so many layers of lights going through you,” Coyne says. “And we have really worked on the bass. We went through a lot of trouble to get it to be that good, to have a fatter and fatter low end so that you really feel the music. It becomes a really good component. . . . The sensations are exaggerated.”
And yes, Coyne will walk around in The Space Bubble, the band’s trademark man-sized hamster ball of sorts that allows him to roll around over fans’ heads. There are also plans for him to ride an LED-lit unicorn around on stage.
One thing that isn’t set yet, though, is the set list for this leg of the tour.
“We always struggle with how many old songs and how many new songs to do,” says Coyne, adding that Lips’ classics like “Race for the Prize” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1” will almost always be in the set. “We know we want to do those songs. Most of the audience knows those tracks. I’ve never liked shows where the band does too many new tracks.”
However, there are so many memorable new tracks on “Oczy Mlody,” the band may have to rotate some in and out of the set, though even that may get tough to do since some new songs have already won over fans.
“ ‘The Castle’ gets the biggest reaction we get in the whole show,” Coyne says. “It’s just the most emotional.”
Generating that kind of reaction is part of what keeps the Flaming Lips going after more than three decades, nearly 25 years after their breakthrough hit “She Don’t Use Jelly.”
“This is our night together,” Coyne says of the concerts. “We are involved in this back and forth together. It’s much more than us just singing songs to you. All the thrill is in the exchange of energy.”
That crowd energy still has the power to surprise the band, Coyne says. It happened earlier this year when Flaming Lips played Le Bataclan in Paris, where 90 Eagles of Death Metal concertgoers were killed by terrorists in 2015. “We knew this had happened, but we tried not to think of it too much,” he says. “We did a sound check in the room and it was just a sound check. It was not very exciting. But when the crowd came in, it became a charged, emotional night. The feelings just explode. . . . Music does that special thing — not just Flaming Lips music. It helps us to get at something deeper that’s unspeakable.”
Coyne believes most of that connection comes from the sound. “So often we are satisfied with songs when there aren’t lyrics,” he says. “You end up thinking, ‘Lyrics are just going to . . . [expletive] all of that up. The best songs seem like they mean something even without any lyrics.”
He says that was the case with the new song “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill,” one of the standout tracks from “Oczy Mlody” and one of the best songs released so far this year.
“This sounds like something Ozzy Osbourne would say,” Coyne says of the song’s opening lines, which also became the title, adding that “most of it is a free flow of ... [expletive] to get you through it.”
He ended up creating a tale of a hunter who tries to shoot wizards and otherworldly creatures, but mistakenly shoots himself and gets saved by the same creatures he was hunting. Coyne says the idea came from visiting a psychic a few years back because his girlfriend liked to go. The experience didn’t make him a believer in psychic powers, but it did impress him how someone could heal others by simply interacting with them.
“I was transformed,” he says. “It really blew me away how she was able to help those people. I was changed by this thing I didn’t understand.”
That could definitely refer to the Flaming Lips’ music as well.
Flaming and flashy
The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne has been using breaks in the band’s touring schedule to work on his first solo art exhibit, which opened last month in Waterloo, Iowa. In addition to his paintings, visitors can see his sculptures and even his movie “Christmas on Mars.” That’s no surprise to the band’s fans who have seen Coyne’s artistic imagination on display at concerts for years. Here’s a look at some of the band’s most memorable creations:
THE PARKING LOT EXPERIMENT(S) The band takes over a parking structure in a city and hands out dozens of individualized cassettes for people to play in their cars simultaneously to create a car-stereo orchestra of sorts that Coyne would conduct by having specific car owners adjust the volume on their stereos. (In 1997, the band tried this in New York, during the CMJ music festival, using boom boxes instead of car stereos.)
THE SPACE BUBBLE It’s been a staple of the Flaming Lips shows for years for Coyne to get into “The Space Bubble,” which looks like a giant plastic hamster ball, and sing a song as he walks/rolls over the crowds’ outstretched hands. On the current tour, Coyne has been singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in The Bubble, which originally started as a tribute to the late legend, but now continues because Coyne feels it suits the mood of the concert.
“7 SKIES H3” The song is 24 hours long and was released in 2011 on a flash drive encased in an actual human skull. A condensed 50-minute version was released in 2014.— GLENN GAMBOA
WHO Flaming Lips
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. March 9, Terminal 5, Manhattan; 8 p.m., March 11, , The Space at Westbury
INFO $45; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com