The Flaming Lips with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic

“Tonight, you will bear witness to music history amid a psychedelic and multi-media concert extravaganza, as the world-renowned alternative rock band The Flaming Lips join the Oklahoma City Philharmonic for the first time ever, in a special engagement commissioned just for the mayors of America.”

-The U.S. Conference of Mayors 2010 (website)

When Steven Drozd was asked about his unfulfilled musical goals at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Academy of Contemporary Music masterclass he presented on February 10, 2010, he pinpointed one: working with an orchestra.  Last night, he did just that.  Less than 48 hours after playing two well-received but unsurprising sets at Bonnaroo, The Flaming Lips played with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic in a special engagement for the 78th annual Conference of Mayors in Oklahoma City.  Little was spoken about this show beforehand (though Wayne did discuss it in one interview posted online last week and there was some discussion on The Flaming Lips message boards and tweets about it at  [UPDATE: News of the event widely spread across the internet on June 15, two days after it happened and the day after the original version of this post.]  Was the Mayors gig in the evening of June 13 — not the freak-fest in the wee early hours of June 12 — the surprise Wayne Coyne had hinted at in interviews?

Wayne Coyne previewed the details to The Oklahoman’s Entertainment Editor Gene Triplett last week: “I think there’s quite a few strings, and I’m not sure what the whole ensemble is, but we’re only going to play a couple of songs. They’re going to do a version with us of ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ just a version of their own. And then we’re gonna do ‘Race for the Prize’ because that was what the mayor played at his reelection party a few months back. That will be me kind of singing to the mayor.”

Following the O.K.C. Philharmonic’s opening arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (click link for alternate footage than the clip above), and The Flaming Lips joining them for “Race for the Prize” (also above),  Steven Drozd took to the podium (click for picture) and conducted the orchestra with The Flaming Lips covering Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube”.  [UPDATE: There’s three versions on YouTube as of June 16.  One, embedded at the top of this post, is just forty-two seconds of Steven’s conducting climaxes.  The other two are the complete song.  The first uploaded of these two – which you might have seen on YouTube or at on Monday – was filmed from afar… so there’s no close-ups of the players and it sounds like what it was: an orchestra playing with a modestly amped rock band in an arena designed for mass sporting events.  The second, uploaded later on Monday  – and seen by thousands on Tuesday after Pitchfork posted it as “Watch The Flaming Lips Cover Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube” With Orchestra” and stereogum, tripwire and others copied the post – was shot close enough to see Wayne’s facial expressions and Steven’s conducting technique from the back, as well as to relatively clearly hear the guitar parts.  The downside is the orchestra is drowned out and Wayne’s vocals overpower the camera microphone, muffling them.  Though the first is far from a professional recording, Wayne’s speaking is clearer and the actual blend of the orchestra with The Flaming Lips in the Ford Center is better replicated.  Likewise, en lieu of close-ups, the “scene” and overall stage set-up is captured more fully in the first, showing the entire orchestra, the band and even a bit of the audience and their response.  Both version are below.]

Although there was no video screen, “hamster” bubble, lasers, balloons or even their identifiable, orange gig instruments, there was plenty of The Flaming Lips’ signature confetti by the end of last night.  Listen at the beginning of “Sugarcube” for Wayne apologizing for getting some in the mayors’ lobsters!  The event – presented by Devon Energy Corp. and also sponsored by AT&T and Enogex, an OGE Energy Corp. Company – was not open to the public, nor do The Flaming Lips plan more concerts with an orchestra.  The last of the three songs the Philharmonic played with The Flaming Lips was Oklahoma’s state rock song: “Do You Realize???”

Wayne to“I don’t know if people who have seen us do our New Year’s Eve show where there’s 10,000 balloons and I’m walking on people’s heads in a space bubble, if they really want to see just people playing music.  We are all about music, don’t get me wrong, we are about the music. But we’re The Flaming Lips, and we are this traveling show, this big entity that puts on this big show, so I don’t know.”

For fans that are all about the music and interested in experiencing The Flaming Lips in this way, for now we’ll just have to settle on improving the few clips on YouTube in our imaginations with help from a wonderful slide show at flickr by NathanPOPPE (perhaps while listening to The String Quartet Tribute to The Flaming Lips).  Maybe when The Flaming Lips get around to playing The Soft Bulletin live (one of many projects on their horizon), they’ll bring along the O.K.C. Philharmonic for some tour dates.  They already know “Race for the Prize” – that’s a start!

Psych Explorations of the Future Heart is an upcoming publication about life, rock n’ roll, pop culture and The Flaming Lips.  Follow for news and songs, like this one…

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