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Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

Meet Brad Houser

The Flaming Lips are an American Cottage Industry… since 1983, American all the way. These guys are still home-based out of Oklahoma City, by the way. Move to New York/LA? Naah… Make their own movie (Christmas on Mars)? At (singer) Wayne’s house? Yeahhh…. DO see this movie. Excellent low-budget sci-fi creativity at its finest. Reportedly there were about a million trips to Home Depot during the making of the film. Elaborate sets, y’all.

The Flaming Lips formed in 1983 in Norman, OK with Wayne Coyne-gtr, Michael Ivins-bass, and Wayne’s brother Mark on vox. After a host of initial drummers, Richard English joined on kit in 1984.

In 1986 I first saw them at the Theater Gallery, a now-legendary venue in Dallas’ Deep Ellum district. By this time they were a trio, with guitarist/leader Wayne Coyne handling vox. Both he and bassist Michael Ivins were playing through Marshall stacks. Splattered with Day-Glo paint. Also splattered on their clothes and instruments.

Sonically, they were loud and distorted. Musically they sounded like punk-rock Led Zeppelin (Zep with less chops and more distortion). I loved it. Occasionally Wayne and Michael would switch sides and plug into one another’s stacks. Sounded a little different…. They were using a Les Paul and a Rickenbacker 4001, as I recall… The whimsical and theatrical have long been a part of the ‘Lips’ experience.

By 2007, when I saw them at a festival near Atlanta, the FL had become a full-blown circus. They had a confetti cannon. There were 16 or so people dressed in Santa suits standing on stage left during the whole show. There was a giant LED screen flashing colored patterns at the back of the stage behind the band. Constantly. They blew up giant balloons and sent them rolling out into the crowd…………

For a number of years the musical center and mastermind of the band has been drummer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd. On drums he is the John Bonham of the Prairie. His orchestrations on keyboard/”strings” lend expansiveness reminiscent of the Oklahoma skies, most notably on the 1999 release, “The Soft Bulletin.” By this time Mr. Drozd’s conceptual wizardry had moved to the forefront of the Lips’ sound. With great songs, expansive production and all-around “genius”, ‘The Soft Bulletin’ stands as a landmark in the long run of Flaming Lips history.

In 2009, their song “Do You Realize” was announced as the official rock song of the state of Oklahoma. In Oklahoma City there is a street (Flaming Lips Alley) named for them.

Other items of interest:

* July 4, 2008, Des Moines, Iowa found the Lips throwing 250 giant orange and yellow balloons into the audience, a large percentage of who were wearing Teletubbies outfits.

* Typical song title: “The Wizard Turns On… The Giant Silver Flashlight and Puts on His Werewolf Moccasins”. (An instrumental piece…)

* In 1997, they released “Zaireeka”, a 4-CD album intended to be listened to by playing all four simultaneously in 4 separate CD players. As part of this phase, the band hosted a series of “parking lot experiments” in which up to 40 volunteers were given cassettes created by the band to play in their car stereos simultaneously.

* On Dec 29, 2009 The Flaming Lips released their second album of ’09, a complete remake of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon”.

Their previous 2009 CD, “Embryonic”, is what I’m listening to right now. It at times has Geezer Butler buzz saw-bass often set in an ambient landscape. Often the band employs old-school echo and reverb in their dreamscapes. The space-age bachelor pad is never far away on this outing. This recording reminds me of the Atomic Age of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. We were all going to have Flying Cars, and Shiny Suits. Instead, we got: Nixon. Energy shortages. Inflation. Pollution. Vietnam.

Do go see them live, or on YouTube. And visit online at www.flaminglips.com

Best Regards, BH

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