- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

The music world has never really known what to make of the Flaming Lips. In the mid-'90s, it looked as if the band had spent all of its 15 minutes of fame after gaining a minor hit with "She Don't Use Jelly."
Now, the Lips have a Grammy win under their belt, have made a fan out of Justin Timberlake and spent the last half of last year touring as Beck's opening act and backup band.
"We thought we'd be hanging out more, talking about music, swapping ideas," reflects multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd on the Beck tour. "It was a lot of work, a lot of rehearsals…but I have fond memories of it all."
The trio made up of Mr. Drozd, bassist Michael Ivins and singer-guitarist Wayne Coyne is quite familiar with work. Formed in the early 1980s, the band spent much of its two-decade career toiling in obscurity until the sudden critical and commercial success that came with 1999's lush epic "The Soft Bulletin."
Following up a masterwork, though, is a challenge for any musician, and the band certainly worried that success could be a trap.
"On the one hand, we felt kind of empowered, like we were free to do whatever we wanted," says Mr. Drozd, who joined the group in 1993. "[But] we were really worried that the next record was instantly going to have this backlash reaction, because everyone would be comparing it to 'The Soft Bulletin.'"
Luckily for the band, the backlash never came. Released in the summer of 2002, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" is full of the Lips' trademark weirdness (just consider the title). Underneath the strange concepts, though, are beautiful melodies, dreamlike instrumentals and meditations on love, death and the meaning of life. It all led to a 2003 Grammy win for best rock instrumental performance for one track from the album, "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon."
Not that the band takes itself too seriously. Its concerts make fans feel like part of the party with an elaborate stage show that matches the feel-good vibe of much of the music. The Lips play the 9:30 Club Sunday and will be at the Recher Theatre in Towson, Md., Monday.
"Visually speaking, this tour will be about the same [as the Beck tour]," Mr. Drozd says. "The huge 80-pound mirror balls, the film that plays behind us, the people in animal costumes dancing."
The band also has started performing a few covers, mostly after playing radio-station gigs where they were required to play acoustically and needed quick material to fill airtime. That's how they ended up cutting a version of Kylie Minogue's infectious "Can't Get You Out of My Head," which appears on the Lips' new "Fight Test" EP.
"Wayne really, really liked it," Mr. Drozd explains. In the Lips version, the bouncy pop song becomes a serious, haunting dirge almost bordering on the absurd.
With strong fan and critical support, it seems that the Flaming Lips can safely be absurd without worrying about losing their record deal. After all, they will open for Radiohead at the Glastonbury Festival in England this summer and hope to be the same band's opening act this fall when Radiohead tours the United States. Traveling has become second nature for a band that almost disappeared into the underground.
"Touring has been great for us, and we're going to keep doing it," Mr. Drozd says. "It's keeping the record alive and letting more people hear it."

While most bands including the Flaming Lips spend years waiting for that elusive major-label contract, the Sun somehow managed to skip ahead several steps in the rock-star process.
"It was pretty funny, actually," says singer-guitarist Chris Burney. "We had played one show as the Sun before we were signed."
The band members including drummer Sam Brown, guitarist Bryan Arendt and bassist Brad Forsblom all have been in other bands but had only one gig together before the major labels came knocking.
Some of the band's material clearly apes the current "garage rock" sound as practiced by the Strokes, the White Stripes and the Hives, making the Sun a potential hot commodity. Warner Bros. took the honors and has been grooming the young band for success during the past few months. The first step is "Love and Death," a six-song debut that is meant to build anticipation for the group's full-length album, expected later this year.
"We tried to get a cross section of everything that we can do on there," Mr. Burney says from a hotel room in Baltimore. The band returns to the Washington area to open for the Flaming Lips at the 9:30 Club Sunday and Recher Theatre Monday.
Recording the EP during a busy weekend in Chicago, the Columbus, Ohio, band is ready for the burdens of potential stardom, with tours on both coasts and a jaunt to Europe lined up for the summer.
"We just played a show where there were two stages, in Old Bridge, N.J.," Mr. Burney says. "There were all of these 12- to 15-year-olds there, and they were just crazy. I saw our guitar player get totally swamped by them."
With the Lips shows, the Sun is hoping its grungy garage rock will reach a whole new audience.
"The crowd's going to be totally different," Mr. Burney says, "and way more music-savvy."


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