artsy band takes a dark turn Flaming Lips open eyes

By John Benson

When The Black Keys’ people talked to The Flaming Lips’ people about opening a few shows on their spring tour, the psychedelic band jumped at the opportunity.

Perhaps the elephant in the room regarding the bill — which comes to Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on Tuesday — is the fact The Black Keys have ascended to arena headliner on the concert touring food chain to the point The Flaming Lips are the supporting act.

“It’s fine. Over the last 20- something years I’ve been in the band, I don’t know how many groups we’ve opened for where two years before they would have opened for us,” said singer-drummer Steven Drozd, calling from his Oklahoma home. “We kind of got over that phenomenon early in our career. It’s not a big deal.”

The one requirement The Flaming Lips did make had to do with wanting its own concert production, which is the difference between the band presenting its own creative show versus standing in front of the Black Keys’ equipment and playing.

What may seem like a relatively innocuous demand actually speaks to the heart of the Okla- homa band’s dedication to its stagecraft. Over the years, the group has learned its lesson regarding the concert-industry game. This occurred in 2002 when the outfit not only opened for Beck but was his backing band to boot.

To put it lightly, the tour was an eye-opener for the Flaming Lips.

“We did learn some lessons on that Beck experience,” Drozd said. “One was don’t sign up to be the opening band and the band that’s playing with the artist. That was the blunder because it was too brutal and exhausting. But we thought it would be fun. We thought we were going to sit around and jam and we’ll get drunk and get out our acoustic guitars and have these jam sessions like CSNY. It was nothing like that. It was just very professional. No real hanging out or camaraderie. It was really a bummer.”

Something that’s not a bummer is the band’s recently released 13th studio album “The Terror,” which is a decidedly left-turn for the group. Gone are the band’s penchant for hooky choruses and spacey pop vibes. Instead, band visionary Wayne Coyne and company pulled down the shades, lit a few candles and explored melancholy one sound at a time.

“To me, the new record is a real shift,” Drozd said. “It’s one mood. It’s all drudgery. It’s like existing in this state of sadness. When I’m depressed, I like to listen to depressing music because it sort of affirms something you feel. Hopefully people will get that out of it.”

The dour mind-set also carries over to the band’s set list, which Drozd said may not include its top 10 hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” from 1993 album “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.” Speaking of which, this year marks 20 years since the band released its successful album that in many ways put the Flaming Lips on the map (and famously a guest-spot on “Beverly Hills 90201”).

While normal protocol among successful groups is to milk every cent out of past glory by not only putting out a deluxe release of the album with bonus cuts and live material, but even touring the album in its entirety. Not The Flaming Lips. There will be no self-aggrandizement.

“If that were the case, that we were living off a hit from 20 years ago, I think I would have killed myself by now,” Drozd said. “If we were playing some Hard Rock casino somewhere and our audience were all based on people who liked us in 1993, I don’t know if I could deal with that. That’s just too depressing to think about.

“But from attrition and just hanging in there, we’ve been fortunate enough we didn’t break up. Also, people not only tolerate us doing different things but they kind of expect us to do different stuff. How many bands exist in that reality? So it’s a pretty good deal, you know.”

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