Lately, it's been kind of a crapshoot when the Flaming Lips come to town--like last July, when the band staged one of its infamous experiments at Galaxy Club. The event involved 30 boom-boxes, hundreds of tapes, and audience volunteers. It also apparently required singer-guitarist-weirdo Wayne Coyne to wear a tight mauve cycling jersey, teal running shorts (and we do mean shorts), and a peculiar body odor that a shower at any point during the previous three or four months would have taken care of. Almost all of it was a complete waste of time, but every once in a while, the sounds coming out of all of the portable stereos would combine into one of the most beautiful-ugly songs imaginable--cricket chirps and droning guitar and a chorus of children's voices locking together like a jigsaw puzzle. Coyne would dart around, trying to keep everything running smoothly, knowing he didn't stand a chance and not caring.
The Galaxy Club performance was just part of a long-term project the Flaming Lips have been involved with during the past few years. Started as a series of parking-lot experiments with Coyne and the band trying to create a symphony using car stereos, it eventually evolved into an album, 1997's Zaireeka, possibly the most unwieldy release in the history of Warner Bros. Records. Zaireeka's songs were scattered over four CDs meant to be played together. It was an attempt to bring people together to listen to music, Coyne would say later, something he thought people just didn't do anymore. The idea was that most people didn't own four stereos, so they'd have to call their friends, or make some new ones. Zaireeka was a confusing and astonishing album, when you finally got a chance to listen to it. It worked, but just barely.
For now, though, the band has abandoned its experiments to deliver a real album and tour for its ever-so-patient record label, which has been waiting for something people might actually buy since 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic. The forthcoming CD was recorded during the sessions for Zaireeka, a backup plan in case they couldn't figure out how to make four discs work together at the same time. It should hit stores in a few weeks, and the band will preview songs from it on Wednesday at Trees. Of course, that's what the band is scheduled to do. You never know what will happen when they get onstage. We only hope for one thing: that Coyne has figured out how to use a shower.