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Flaming Lips: They don’t think small

Special to The Times

SINGER Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is apologetic. “We’ll see if people will forgive us, and try again,” he says.

Unlike other high-profile apologies (see Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, etc.), Coyne has done nothing to offend -- his psychedelic pop band, after all, makes songs about coming together, finding the right direction in life, moral quandaries and even robot battles. But he’s apologizing, now, for last New Year’s, when the Lips’ planned festivities at Giant Village in downtown Los Angeles were scotched after promoters, citing safety concerns caused by rain, canceled the event only hours before the gates were to open.

“When they take control away from you like that, it’s just crushing,” says Coyne, adding that the band learned its lesson: "[On New Year’s], we should always play inside.”

And so it will be Sunday, when the Lips, joined by Gnarls Barkley and Cat Power, give a concert that rings in 2007 at the USC Galen Center.

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Few bands anywhere better embody what most concert-goers are looking for on New Year’s Eve than the Flaming Lips. On what passes as a normal night for them, they’re surrounded by audience members, each illuminated, dressed as aliens, Santa Clauses, giant stuffed animals, blow-up suns, enormous salamanders or some combination thereof. Then there are the balloons -- thousands of them, bouncing merrily everywhere -- as well as the blizzard of confetti blown on the audience throughout the show.

“For the past six or seven years, we’ve become a New Year’s Eve band,” Coyne says. “Each time we’ve done a New Year’s show, the spectacle has stayed with us for the next show. The first time we did the balloons was at a New Year’s show. We thought, ‘We’ll go all out.’ ”

Now, of course, all-out for the Lips’ is far bigger than that. For most of this year, they’ve been talking about their plans to introduce a giant UFO to their stage set-up -- a plan that was intended to be hatched at the Hollywood Bowl this summer but was foiled by (of all things) transportation issues. Instead, they debuted the UFO at a hometown show in Oklahoma City. It will get one more test run Saturday night in San Francisco.

“There’s an amphitheater that’s part of the Oklahoma City Zoo,” Coyne says. “We’ve been out there for the last month or so trying to figure out lighting configurations and weight configurations that will let us do this stuff. We were out there last night at 1:30 in the morning with smoke machines blowing into the hyena pits over there. It looks pretty crazy -- even by my standards.”

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FOR this New Year’s show, the onstage dancers will be picked from Lips fans who’ve uploaded videos of their dance steps onto YouTube, and Coyne says he’s impressed with the results: “They can share their freakiness and not be overshadowed by the Flaming Lips.”

The band is also planning onstage collaborations with its openers, Cat Power and Gnarls Barkley, first in Gnarls’ set on their ubiquitous “Crazy” (which Coyne calls “the coolest song of the year”) and later, post-midnight, for an all-band run-through of “What a Wonderful World.”

Says Coyne, “That’s the sort of thing an audience thinks should happen at something like this, and they often don’t. I’ve been to plenty of New Year’s shows that were standard issue. You go to a Flaming Lips show -- that’s what New Year’s is all about.”

In fact, he says, he wants people to think they were at the best event in the world.

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“Sometimes you’ll go to a New Year’s party or New Year’s show, and [the next day] you’ll be watching some dumb CNN thing, and they’ll show some party that’s utterly out of control,” the singer says. “You’ll slump in your seat and say: ‘I wish I was at that one. The one I was at, even though it was fun, wasn’t out of control.’

“My thought is: You come to a Flaming Lips show, come home and watch CNN -- you pity those fools.

“You were at the party that was the greatest party on the planet at that moment.”

weekend@latimes.com

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Flaming Lips

What: The Flaming Lips, Gnarls Barkley and Cat Power

Where: USC Galen Center, 3400 S. Figueroa St., L.A.

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When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Price: $55

Info: (213) 480-3232; www.ticketmaster.com; www.goldenvoice.com


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