THE FLAMING LIPS opening for BECK at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Sunday (October 20). $42.50-$49.50. 416-870-8000.
Oklahoma psychedelic trio the Flaming Lips create grand epics in the recording studio and have a habit of dressing in bunny suits and drenching themselves in fake blood during their live sets. They're one of the most inspired groups around, more than capable of entertaining all on their own, which makes the Lips' new gig as Beck's backing band intriguing but very puzzling.
Beck's current tour will see the Flaming Lips performing an opening set, then plugging in as the songwriter's sidemen. It's not entirely new ground for the band -- the Lips played backup to Australian songwriter Richard Davies to electrifying effect a few years ago. At the very least, it will be interesting to see how they fit their psych overload to Beck's lurching hiphop/funk.
"The joke is that Beck called Radiohead and they said, "Go to hell,' and then he called Grandaddy and they said, "No fucking way,'" laughs Lips frontman Wayne Coyne from Los Angeles.
"We were 10th on the list. Seriously, though, I think he truly does love us, and I think he wanted to do something radical. I think he thought, "Well, fuck it. This could be bizarre.' He asked me, and I thought it would be insane. Because he's Beck he pretty much does what he wants to do, and we do what we want, so it should be a good match."
The plan was that the Lips would pick the songs they wanted to play, and if their choices didn't totally insult him, Beck'd go with it.
"What surprised him was how many hits we went with," says Coyne. "I mean, we've got to do Loser. I think he's a little insecure about doing those big songs, but we're, like, "Fuck, yeah!'
"Most of his music, you can only change so much. We're just adding intensity, and trying to get away from the smugness of it. We're trying to make it slightly spooky, not smuggy. Not everything has to be with a smirk."
Fans worried that the Flaming Lips will be dropping the aforementioned blood-and-bunnies routine for a more respectable display needn't be concerned. Coyne insists that, if anything, their sets with Beck will only enhance the Lips' reputation for explosive, mind-melting performances.
"We're going to be bringing the whole freak show. I'll probably still be covered in blood during Beck's set.
"A lot of artists get caught up in the idea of being artists all the time," he explains. "I don't elevate being an artist. I don't think I'm more important than the guy who's going to fix my car this afternoon. Sometimes I think Beck gets caught up in this idea that he's still being an artist and creating when he performs."
The only potential downside of this surreal pairing is that the tour will limit Coyne's work on his other pet project, his feature-length film, Christmas On Mars. The sci-fi flick, written and directed by Coyne and featuring a full score by the Flaming Lips, tells the story of the first Christmas to be celebrated on the newly colonized Red Planet.
The film was initially set for release around Christmas of 2003, but new tours and different projects have started to put the project in jeopardy.
"I haven't really had a chance to work on the film since May, but the last thing we did featured Steve Burns from (the children's program) Blues Clues," Coyne says. "He's a huge fan of our music, and he's actually started working with Dave Friddman on his own record, so we had to get him in the film.
"It gets stranger by the scene. The more I do, the easier it gets. I think we could make a really great fucking film here."