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Interview:
Flaming Lips Balance Dazzle, Emotion
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

No matter what you think of the Flaming Lips’ music, the psychedelic rock trio from Oklahoma promises that anybody who comes to see them play live will have something to look at.

“We no longer think of ourselves as entertainers; we think of ourselves as being freaky entertainers,” frontman Wayne Coyne, 45, says of the Lips’ visual sensibility which, along with its recent albums, including this year’s “At War With the Mystics,” has made it one of the coolest bands on the planet.

“We’re not asking the audience to come in and watch us play drums and guitars. We’re saying, ‘We’re Flaming Lips. We’re really gonna put on a show.’ We take the songs we know people want to hear, then we act like drug-damaged, freaked-out, rich entertainers. We say, ‘What can we do to make something fantastical happen, as if Dorothy’s coming in to see the Wizard of Oz?’ ”

In the past, that’s included all manners of costumes (particularly furry animal suits), a clear “space bubble” in which Coyne rolls around the stage and confetti-filled balloons that are tossed to the Lips’ audiences. All of that, and more, will be cap- tured on a live CD and DVD the group recently recorded in Los Angeles.

“A lot of putting on a show is just dumb entertainment,” Coyne explains. “We’re certainly not the only ones to think of it. Anybody who can embrace the absurdness of it should be able to do it and make it their own — even Green Day.”

But it would be a mistake to embrace — or dismiss — the Lips only on the merits of their schtick. Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd treat their music with careful craft and an intricate sense of detail and sonic layering. They’re all for “happy accidents,” Coyne says, but even the most winsomesounding pieces — such as “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” the first single from “Mystics” — are labored over until they meet the Lips’ exacting standards.

And, Coyne says, that process can be as much fun as jumping around the stage in a large pink bunny suit.

“Sometimes you can get lost and forget to have an emotional content ’cause you get so freaky,” he explains. “But without the freakiness, sometimes you can make music that’s heartfelt but not very fun to listen to.

“We try to cover both bases. Wherever our imagination goes, we just follow as its loyal servants, and it hasn’t steered us too wrong yet.”

It’s “a whole new phase” for veteran alternative rockers Sonic Youth, says singer-guitarist Thurston Moore.

After five years as a quintet with producer-artist Jim O’Rourke, the New York troupe is back to a four-piece lineup — but not, Moore says, just like it was before.

“It doesn’t really feel the same, even though it is kind of the ‘original’ Sonic Youth,” explains Moore, 48, who formed the group in 1981 with his wife, Kim Gordon, and guitarist Lee Renaldo, adding drummer Steve Shelley in 1985. “All of a sudden, we felt kind of like this is a new joint. So we’re super-excited about what’s going on.”

The new/old Sonic Youth released a new album, “Rather Ripped,” in June, unveiling a more strippeddown and accessible sound — especially compared to the noise-rock epics on which the group staked its reputation early in its career. Moore acknowledges the songs “are much more ... short and sharp and immediate,” but contends “we’re still present- ing a lot of experimental kind of edge to the music.”

Mostly, however, he says the band is pleased it still can find new things to do after 25 years together.

“I really like that a lot,” Moore notes, “especially since we’re all getting older. I find that it’s even more radical to be in a rock band the older you are.”

Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth and the Go! Team perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday (August 4th) at the State Theatre, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $35. Call (313) 961-5450 or visit

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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