Extraordinary Pucker for Fans


April 1, 2003

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

Great rockers have traditionally been wary of assuming a messianic pose. “Tommy,” “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” and to some extent “The Wall” were all cautionary tales about the dangers of a rock star assuming the role of guru.

But after two decades and 10 brilliant albums, singer-songwriter Wayne Coyne is embracing the positions of philosopher, proselytizer, and spiritual cheerleader. And rather than using his influence to corrupt, he is preaching a simple, open-ended, and very timely message in keeping with the spirit of all great rock ’n’ roll: Life is short, so relish the moment, and live it to the fullest.

This was the perfect sentiment to share with an adoring sold-out crowd at Metro Tuesday night as Coyne and the Flaming Lips bid farewell to 2002 and ushered in 2003 with the most memorable New Year’s Eve concert anyone in attendance had ever seen.

It’s no surprise that Oklahoma City’s psychedelic popsters chose Chicago to celebrate the end of one of their most successful years, one which saw the release of the brilliant “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and found the band stealing the show during high-profile tours with Cake and Beck. The Lips’ first major alternative-rock hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” first took off here in 1994, and the Windy City is home to the largest, most devoted, and most faithful congregation in the Church of Coyne.

The band rewarded the packed crowd of twentysomething fans (a new generation that seems to have come to the Lips in 2000 with “The Soft Bulletin”) by pulling out the stops on its celebratory multi-media stage show. There was the giant video screen flashing surreal images. There was colored smoke, flashing lights, lots of oversized balloons, and revolving inflatable robots. There were two dozen rodents, chipmunks, elephants, unicorns, and other costumed animals dancing on stage wielding portable spotlights. There was Santa Claus, and there was a stripper. And of course there was a ton of confetti. (It was literally six inches deep on the floor by the end of the night.)

But these thrift-store theatrics—the indie-rock version of a massive arena spectacle like Pink Floyd’s—were simply a logical extension of the Lips’ life-affirming sounds, and the music remained the core and focus of the show. As long-time bassist Michael Ivins and new drummer Clifford (just Clifford) provided a huge, pounding bottom, extraordinarily talented multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd added amazing splashes of color to the group’s orchestrated “Pet Sounds”-style backing tracks.

Meanwhile, Coyne wrapped his plaintive Neil Young whine around the indelible melodies of Lips favorites such as “Waitin’ for a Superman,” “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton,” and the amazing new single “Do You Realize?,” as well as party-time covers by Pink Floyd (“Lucifer Sam”) and Radiohead (“Knives Out”), the U.K. art-rockers who are similarly devoted to expanding the boundaries of the music for a new millennium.

In between all this, the Lips paused to sing “Happy Birthday” to fans who were celebrating one, and of course they offered their own extremely unconventional take on the midnight countdown and “Auld Lang Syne.” But there was something else as well. Every time Coyne raised his arms, the crowd shouted at the top of its lungs (even when he was only goofing around, coming out on stage before the show to set up his equipment). And this is where the messiah thing comes in.

Fans have taken to cheering Coyne simply for being Coyne. He feeds on their energy, radiates back good will, and the cycle builds in intensity throughout the night. The birthday routine has been added to the show because fans keep saying a Lips gig is like the best birthday party they’ve ever been to, and that’s exactly what the band wants—with an element of slacker/rocker spiritual revival thrown in. Yet there are no rules or restrictions and no judgments or guilt trips along the road Coyne is mapping.

“These are dark and treacherous times, and none of us know if we’ll even be here tomorrow,” the 41-year-old singer said as New Yorkers cheered a New Year while cautiously peering over their shoulders for hints of terror. “We all get so caught up in everything that we forget to live right now. All we have for sure is this moment, but that’s enough for me. And that’s why we’ve got to make it count!”

The band’s fans/followers roared in agreement. And on New Year’s Eve in Chicago, the Flaming Lips once again made a special moment count.