CHICAGO With their First International Music Against Brain
Degeneration Revue, the Flaming Lips have brought new meaning to the concept of live
The mind-expanding tour, which also featured Sebadoh, Robyn Hitchcock, Sonic Boom
and Tranquility Bass when it arrived at the Metro for shows Saturday and Sunday, is
billed as "the world's first headphone concert tour."
Headphones and a small portable radio were distributed to fans, who could tune into an
FM signal broadcast from a small transmitter onstage. Concert-goers heard the show
through the headphones as well as through the speakers.
With that combination of live and broadcast sound, fans could hear not only the
headliners, the Oklahoma City trio who are riding a riptide of critical acclaim for The
Soft Bulletin, but also such cult favorites as Hitchcock, who debuted material from
Jewels for Sophia, which is scheduled for release Tuesday (July 20).
The headphone concept is the brainchild of leader Wayne Coyne the same
oddball savant who brought the world Zaireeka (1997), which comprised four CDs
designed to be played simultaneously.
"Wherever you were, you could hear," concert-goer Wally Habbas, 29, of Chicago, said.
"Even if you were buying beer or using the restroom."
On Saturday, the headphones proved most beneficial during the Flaming Lips' set,
allowing listeners to hear the trio's artful, sprawling soundscapes with greater clarity.
Those soundscapes were pieced together from disparate parts. While Coyne sang and
beat a gong, his bandmates, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins, added electric guitar,
bass, keyboards and pedal steel. Prerecorded drums and string arrangements rounded
out the ambitious psychedelia of new songs such as "Race for the Prize" (RealAudio excerpt) and
"Waitin' for a Superman" (RealAudio excerpt),
and the encore, "The Spark That Bled."
A huge video screen onstage projected various images atomic explosions, clips
from the film "The Red Balloon," a police officer clubbing an unarmed man
crosscut with live footage of the band filmed by a tiny camera near Coyne's microphone.
"The Lips were really interesting," Shawn Sprehe, 30, of Chicago, said. "[By combining]
prerecorded and live music, they really pulled off the new album."
The Flaming Lips are best known to mass audiences for their 1995 alternative-rock radio
hit "She Don't Use Jelly," which they played Saturday night. But defining the
adventurous trio's career by that novelty song is like remembering the Beatles only as
the band that did "Yellow Submarine."
Sebadoh singer/songwriter Lou Barlow turned 33 Saturday, but his band's performance,
immediately before the Lips took the stage, seemed more indifferent than festive.
The trio's set, which included plenty of material from The Sebadoh (1999), was
most notable for the group's frequent instrument swapping and Jason Lowenstein's
"Nothing Like You," a typically downbeat ballad from 1997's Harmacy.
"Sebadoh was so-so," Sprehe said. "Robyn Hitchcock made more noise than all of
Indeed he did, in a 30-minute set that offered a glimpse of his forthcoming album. In
addition to such older favorites as "I Something You" and "Glass Hotel" (RealAudio excerpt), Hitchcock, the
former leader of the influential psychedelic-punk group the Soft Boys, played the new
"Sea-Tac," an ode to Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. "Viva Sea-Tac," Hitchcock sang;
"They've got the best computers and coffee and smack."
On Sunday afternoon, Hitchcock debuted more new material during an in-store
appearance at tiny Quaker Goes Deaf Records. Before a wall-to-wall crowd of perhaps
75 spectators who spilled onto the street, Hitchcock played "Mexican God," the new
album's lead track.
He also granted fan requests for "DeChirico Street" and "I Wanna Destroy You," but
balked at attempting other older songs.
"In the Soft Boys days, I used to write songs with too many words and try to play them too
fast in places with not enough oxygen," he explained.
Hitchcock also told fans at the in-store event that he will release an album of outtakes
from the Jewels for Sophia sessions. The outtakes album will be available in
November via his website and at concerts. The concept is nothing new for Hitchcock
the 1996 limited-edition vinyl Mossy Liquor, which followed the release of
Moss Elixir, was his most recent such effort.
The Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue, which has been on the road for a month,
is scheduled to continue through Aug. 22.