The Arizona State Fair concert series is consistent to one end: It is always a baffling cornucopia of style, talent, and general modern relevance. This year, they have .38 Special, the Wallflowers, Gary Allen, Anthrax, and … The Flaming Lips?
“Yeah!” Wayne Coyne says excitedly over the phone, “We’ve done that before, haven’t we?”
Coyne needs no introduction. The fearless leader of Oklahoma City psych-rock mainstay The Flaming Lips is recently back from a Hawaiian vacation, where he and girlfriend Katy Weaver got engaged. The band’s upcoming date at the fair will indeed be a return after their appearance in 2016 (they also played Comerica Theater last year with Mac DeMarco). Despite the proximity, the State Fair’s website is skimpy on details. They mostly hype the balloons.
“We do like going for the absurdness,” Coyne laughs. “The idea of playing a state fair might seem [odd] to a lot of people. But I remember going when I was a kid and this would have blown my fucking mind.”
Put yourself in kid Coyne's shoes, an impressionable Oklahoma City eighth-grader kicking the dusty asphalt looking for one affordable ride, stumbling upon the magnificence of “Do You Realize??” for the first time, lit up like Christmas on LSD, complete with lasers, confetti, and yes, balloons. Here, among the mundanity of land-locked American life, is a band that lands UFOs at the zoo, cradles existential terror in tender arms, and invites us to cosmic, fantastical worlds that only they hold the keys to.
I ask Coyne if the band ever gets nervous about playing these festival-type settings where onlookers may not have the familiarity of a decades-long fan. Coyne quickly dismisses it. "Even if it’s just a splattering of hardcore fans, they always seem to infect the rest of the crowd."
“I think we’re lucky that we’re able to indulge our whims and our weirdness,” Coyne says. “Sometimes I don’t know if we have a real method. We’re always panicking and thinking ‘How are we going to do this?’” Coyne chuckles. “That’s probably the accidental reason it stays fresh. Because i just don’t know how it works.”
Luckily, the band’s other mastermind does. Multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd has been busy all summer breaking down the intricacies of the Flaming Lips catalog on his podcast Sorcerer’s Orphan. It pairs well with the myriad hits and rarities compilations the band have put out this summer, including an expansive Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 on Warner Brothers. Coyne says that revisiting some of these deep gems was fun for the band. “It gives a fresh, un-precious approach to stuff. I, more than anybody, ruin our music because I try to do too many things to it instead of just letting it be simple. The thing I love about music is it doesn’t lie. If you’re overthinking it, it will show…don’t get your mind too involved.”
Strange advice from a band known for their maximalism, but Coyne uses rarity track “The Captain,” which the band has taken on the road this summer, to explain the philosophy. “[‘The Captain’] was at the crossover from [albums] Zaireeka and The Soft Bulletin,” Coyne explains. “Stephen and I wanted to make it like Wagner – very bombastic. Full of blood and thunder and biblical bullshit. But we weren’t in control. I think when we made it, we weren’t the humans that could play it. But now we understand the power of it.”
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For the next chapter, Coyne notes two different records in the works. One is closely related to Coyne's visual art installation King’s Mouth, currently on display at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe – “It has a futuristic, medieval vibe to it”, Coyne remarks. Another started as an album about Oklahoma, then morphed into a nightmarish take on Tom Petty’s time recording in Tulsa in the early 1970s. Whatever it becomes in another few years is anyone’s guess.
All summer, The Flaming Lips have been covering David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, wherein the cosmic adventure is taken to dazzling new heights and depths. I tell Coyne that when they take the stage at the Coliseum, it will be the same stage Bowie played on his tours to Phoenix between 1974 (Diamond Dogs) and 1983 (Let’s Dance).
“Wow,” Coyne remarks, “maybe I’ll walk right past him.” This is the Flaming Lips, casting off common notions of time and space, walking among the stars and carrying the torch of love with them.
The Flaming Lips. 7 p.m. Saturday, October 6, at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 1826 West McDowell Road; azstatefair.com. Free with Arizona State Fair admission; reserved seating is $40 to $60 via etix.