Not surprisingly, Wayne Coyne admits now he “hadn’t really thought it out” when he promised a sold-out crowd at First Avenue back in July that his band, Flaming Lips, would come back and play two more shows at the legendary venue within a year.
More of a surprise, the wizardly silver-haired frontman not only kept his pledge — most other rock stars would’ve just made that statement for cheap applause — he fulfilled it in a way that reeks of classic Flaming Lips cleverness.
“I like the idea that once we said we were gonna do it, then it was like, ‘Well, [expletive], what are we gonna do?!’ ” he said by phone this month from Lips HQ in Oklahoma City. “We made up the how and why to go with when and where.”
First Avenue on Tuesday will be the first — and perhaps only — place fans can hear the Flaming Lips perform their 1995 album, “Clouds Taste Metallic,” in its entirety.
This special one-off show follows Part 2 of the psychedelic punks’ First Ave trilogy when they played their 1993 breakthrough record “Transmissions From the Satellite Heart” in full in September. They pretty well nailed that one, too, even though most of the album’s songs hadn’t been attempted live for 18-plus years.
As much as he likes treating Twin Cities fans to these unique stagings, Coyne said the shows are also a welcome diversion for the band. The Lips’ circus-like live shows — with their arsenal of confetti cannons, costumed dancers and Coyne’s hamster-ball roll atop fans’ hands — made the band a top draw at festivals in the ’00s but started to feel uncharacteristically rote by 2010.
“Most of the time nowadays, we’re at the mercy of the situation we’re in, playing a festival or a bigger venue where we’re expected to do a certain number of expected songs,” he said. “Which is fine. We love that. But it’s nice to be able to do something a little more special, too.”
And that’s when Coyne got into explaining the “why” behind these shows — not often an easy question to answer in the case of the Flaming Lips. Past examples include: “Why did you use dozens of boomboxes at your show?” “Why did you make a record with four discs to be played simultaneously?” and, just last year, “Why did you re-record the entire ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ album with Miley Cyrus and other friends?”
Better than CBGB's
In this case, though, the explanation came pretty easy.
“It mostly has to do with First Avenue and those people who work there,” said Coyne, whose band played the club often in the late-’80s and ’90s but stopped in 2000.
“Of all the places we’ve played in the world, it’s one of the last standing places where you could be standing next to Iggy Pop and he says to you, ‘Yeah, I played here in 1975.’ ”
(Actually, Iggy & the Stooges played there even earlier, 1971, but point taken.)
“In the fantasy version of a club most bands want to play in, that’s it,” he continued. “You know, we played [New York’s fabled and defunct punk club] CBGB’s, and that wasn’t nearly as much fun as playing First Avenue.
“CBGB’s was kind of a mess and not well put together, really, but First Avenue is a place that was always set up well, especially for the audience. It’s a place the audience really gets the maximum sound and experience. And in our case, we like that the staff there is always accommodating for a group that does crazy [expletive] like we do.”
More able Lips
While the Lips’ mid-’90s albums have their own craziness about them, Coyne said the process of relearning them song-by-song hasn’t been as difficult as it might have been a few years ago.
“For a long time, it was just the three of us in this full-time,” he said, referring to the band’s other core members, guitarist Stephen Drozd and bassist Michael Ivins. “Now, we’re up to seven members that are always with us. Having that many musicians who can listen to a record and have the ability to figure things out makes it a lot easier.’’
Most of the tracks on “Clouds Taste Metallic” have long been absent from set lists — in part because the guitarist of that era, Ronald Jones, quit the band in 1996. “Clouds” was also more experimental and atmospheric in tone and considered somewhat of a letdown after “Transmissions,” delivering only a modest hit single with “Bad Days.”
Coyne looks back fondly on “Clouds,” though.
“The success of ‘Transmissions’ really allowed us to just go and do our thing and not have to worry about anything else,” he said. “The record didn’t sell big numbers for Warner Bros., but it still did insanely good for a group like us, and for as weird a record as it was.”
Coyne’s group wouldn’t rise to another plateau of success until their 1999 masterpiece “The Soft Bulletin.” The record that came in between, 1997’s “Zaireeka,” was even weirder than “Clouds.” That’s the one that required four synced-up CD players to listen to it.
Laughingly, the singer pondered whether or not “Zaireeka” could come next in the mix of albums they perform live.
“We wouldn’t be able to do all of it, but we’d be able to do enough of it,” he said. “I really don’t know. Honestly, talking to you and thinking about it just now might be enough to get the ball rolling.”
No need to ask where that ball might land if it does roll.