Flaming Lips Kicks Off Summer Tour with 'Big, Elaborate Freakout'

The Flaming Lips have some special shows planned for the coming months, including a few performances of 1999's "The Soft Bulletin" in its entirety and booking a spot on the Dave Matthews Band's Caravan festival June 24 in Atlantic City. But opening the spring/summer portion of its 2011 touring Friday (May 13) in Detroit, the Oklahoma art rockers took the broadview, surveying its career over nearly two hours with a typically extravagant -- make that downright dazzling -- visual assault.

The quintet pulled out plenty of familiar "tricks," of course. Following a half-hour opening set by Sean Lennon's The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, frontman Wayne Coyne began the Lips' show by rolling through the crowd on his "space bubble" during "The Fear." "Worm Mountain" brought a blizzard of balloons and confetti, while a camera mounted on Coyne's microphone caught odd close-up angles of both he and drummer Kliph Scurlock on an arched HD backdrop that seemed to contain virtually every LED circuit on the planet -- as well as a door by which the band members entered the stage. Coyne strapped on the giant hands, and specially chosen fans danced on either side of the stage -- this year's motif being characters from "The Wizard of Oz," a sly nod to the Lips' recent connection with Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and its mythical connection with the film.

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There were characters, too -- a crew member dressed as a bear who hoisted Coyne on his shoulders during "Silver Trembling Hands," while a giant Mr. Toad danced.

"We always have to find something, some big, elaborate freakout," Coyne told Billboard.com prior to the tour. He also promised "some new gadgets and things to freak out with."

There was some new music, too -- "Is David Bowie Dying?," a track that surfaced on the new EP "Flaming Lips 2011: The Flaming Lips with Neon Indian." The Lips have, however, eschewed another album at the moment in favor of releasing its fresh material in various ways, most recently on a computer USB stick encased in a skull made from Gummi-style candy. That's limited the distribution for the new songs, so the Lips mainly stuck to older fare for the opener, dipping into their last studio set -- 2009's "Embryonic" -- for "See the Leaves," "The Ego's Last Stand" and "Silver Trembling Hands" -- as well as reaching back for 1993's "She Don't Use Jelly" (the Lips' only Billboard Hot 100 entry) and also taking on "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)," "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and the soaring "Pompeii am Gotterdammerung."

The coupling of "What is the Light?" and "The Observer" ended the main set on a mellow note, but the Lips brought the energy back up during the encores with "Race for the Prize" and "Do You Realize??," with a clearly grateful Coyne paying tribute to the crowd for its dedication and exuberant reaction. "The truth is there are probably a few people in the audience experiencing real sadness in their lives," Coyne notes. "And they can come to this show and be with you have a have a great f***ing night and walk away knowing it's gonna be alright. That's the great thing a Flaming Lips audience does."

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Coyne says the group is hoping it will be able to add more of its new material to the shows in coming weeks. "Even by the end of the summer," he explains, "people will start to know some of this music that's just now coming out, so we'll be incorporating some of that."

The Lips have shows booked into early August, as well as an appearance at the Hopscotch Music Festival on Sept. 10. Coyne is also working a theatrical adaptation of the 2002 "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" album with director Des McAnuff ("The Who's Tommy," "Jersey Boys"), which could be workshopping before the end of the year.