At the end of my interview with The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne last Tuesday—I'll post it closer to the release of the band's new disc next month—I mentioned how much my children, Posie and Levi, love the Lips' music. I also told him we had tickets to Friday's show, and my kids wanted to know if they could come out early and help blow up balloons, prep confetti guns, and see how the band puts together its elaborate stage show. They're homeschooled and not shy about getting involved in things. "Sure, bring them out," said Coyne. "I can't imagine it would be anything less than a great experience for them."
So we arrived at Merriweather Post Pavilion early in the afternoon. It wasn't difficult finding Wayne—he was already there, helping set up, dressed in his stage clothes—and he ushered us backstage. After introducing himself to my wife and kids, he explained that just about everything had been unloaded, and they were prepping for a sound check. He walked us around, pointing out the giant orange and yellow balloons netted behind the video backdrop, the confetti cannons placed strategically onstage, and a trunk of loaded confetti guns. He pulled out one of the guns, told the kids, "We need lots of these at a Flaming Lips show," and fired it across the stage, to everyone's delight (including his own).
At this point, I have to note that, for my children, this was better than meeting Willy Wonka. Wayne's DIY sensibility, humanistic lyrics, and playful creativity have inspired them profoundly over the past few years. Just a few weeks ago, my wife overheard them singing Lips songs as they folded laundry, and they're liable to break into "Do You Realize?"—recently named the official rock song of Oklahoma, the Lips' home state—at any time. At our house, a declaration of boredom often elicits the question: What would Wayne do? And the kids go looking for sketch pads, a guitar, or duct tape and glue.
So it was touching to see him welcome Posie and Levi into his world, with warmth and charm. This was no mere celebrity sighting for them—it was an audience with a patron saint.
It was time for sound check, and Wayne suggested we watch from the side of the stage. For the next hour, the band tested equipment (including the gong), worked out tech problems, and played through a new song four or five times. And you know what? Even the band's roadies were nice—two of them asked if we needed ear plugs for the kids, who noticed the guys were wearing shirts that said, "The Flaming Lips Will Always Love You."
After they finished, Wayne came over to say "class wasn't over," but he had some interviews to do, and we were welcome to stay as long as we liked. After introducing us to his nephew Dennis—from Star Death and the White Dwarfs, the opening band—and talking about the suits that have become his trademark, he had some words of wisdom for the kids. Looking serious, with a pointed index finger for emphasis, he told them, "Posie and Levi... always remember... if it looks cool... we win."
Then, he broke into a huge grin, gave them hugs, and thanked them for coming. It was magical. And so was the show that followed.
Later that night, Posie bought herself a t-shirt that read: "I saw the Flaming Lips in Concert and the experience made me a better human being."