Music News

A Sober Stupor

In her eight years of trying to shame the drug-loving youths of America into throwing away their needles, blotters and bongs, it's a pity that Nancy Reagan never saw a show by Okie fuzz rockers the Flaming Lips.

The Lips--if their show at the Sun Club last Saturday is any indication--are capable of inducing music that creates a natural high of frightening intensity. If Nance had been smart, she would've hired the Lips to pass out their musical methadone wherever American kids were just saying yes.

The band certainly wasted no time giving the Sun Club audience a sweet taste. Guitarist-lead singer Wayne Coyne, drummer Richard English, and bassman Mike Ivins emerged onto the stage out of a cloud of thick, gray smoke and quickly set about sonically overloading their heavily cranked amplifiers.

In a few minutes, Pina Colada-flavored fumes were everywhere, syncopated stereo strobe lights were throbbing, and the Flaming Lips were cheerily churning out melting walls of sound.

Judging from the intense and psycho-delic stage show, it's easy to see why the Lips are often accused of dabbling in the same kind of substances that used to inspire the Jimi Hendrixes and Syd Barretts of the world.

Coyne, who's heard these accusations ever since the band wrote "Jesus Shooting Heroin" several years ago, defends himself before the show:

"With music like this, who needs drugs?"
Coyne has a point. The Lips' combination smoke and sound onslaught left many Sun Clubbers red-eyed and disoriented. It was as if the bar had suddenly turned into a giant Jamaican spliff-out. Before the Lips' set was through, no doubt, the special-effects smoke became responsible for at least a few cases of rasp-throated cottonmouth, while the sheer volume created a subtle ringing sensation in the crowd's ears.

The Lips' songs, meanwhile, varied from uncut rocks of over-amped distortion to a slurred and discordant rendition of Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" to a spoken tale of Coyne and his brother's encounter with no less than six UFOs. "And it sounded just like this," Coyne said, power-stroking a heavy dose of clang and feedback.

On their albums, the Lips aren't much more subtle. In the past, they've written gruesome little songs like "Everything's Exploding," "She Is Death," and "Charlie Manson Blues." On the band's latest album, Telepathic Surgery, Coyne continues to revel in morbidity. The bloody eyeball on the back cover along with songs like "Chrome-Plated Suicide" and "Shaved Gorilla" will wipe the smile off your face real quick-like.

The complete list of ingredients found in the Lips' lysergic sound might be endless, but the band members say it can include anything from the Butthole Surfers to the Bee Gees. Critics have also accused the band of falling under the influence of legends including Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the MC5, Led Zeppelin, Red Kross, and Blue Oyster Cult.

"We like everything," says Coyne. (Almost true. Coyne once told Spin magazine that critical faves Sonic Youth are "real wimps who can't get away from doing things that they know people are gonna like." Coyne went out of his way in the same interview verbally to assault underground gods along the lines of Henry Rollins and Pussy Galore.)

"We like flying saucers," says drummer English.
"No rules," insists bassman Ivins.
Inject all this three-chord philosophy into a three-headed brain of a band that does a damned good take on drug-rock while remaining straight, and you've got a ranting and raging trio that claims few peers.

In fact, Coyne attributes the Lips' recording contract with Restless Records to his band's reputation as an oddity. According to Coyne, the bigwigs at Restless were once heard to utter this legendary line: "We'll sign 'em, because we know everybody else would want to--just because they're so weird.