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Few bands embody the festival atmosphere quite like the Flaming Lips, especially effervescent frontman Wayne Coyne. For uninitiated SunFest revelers, the Flaming Lips performance Thursday evening could very well feature Coyne inhabiting an enormous gerbil ball or wearing a pair of hands as big as bicycle tires or just posing with a group of writhing naked women onstage. In all cases, the 49-year-old Oklahoman understands how to lead a unified stage show that matches the psychedelic, avant rock his band has created for nearly three decades.
"When people go to a concert, a lot of them are standing around wondering what to do," Coyne says during a recent phone discussion with New Times. "We want everyone to know that it's all right to move and make some noise."
Early on, Coyne had a question for us: "What is SunFest?" And a good question, at that. On the surface, it's five days of music, art, food, and partying currently under way at the West Palm Beach waterfront.
According to SunFest representative Melissa Sullivan, holding this event at the fairgrounds wouldn't be the same. "We aren't necessarily a Bonnaroo or a Langerado," she says. "But we get the best available music for our dollars. Performers love coming here. There's something about those palm trees swaying."
Compared to the best available for SunFest 2009, which catered heavily to niche groups like stoners (311, Slightly Stoopid, G. Love and Special Sauce), adult-contemporary junkies (Tonic, David Cook, Collective Soul, Gin Blossoms, Matt Nathanson), the indie-rock set (Wavves, the Mae Shi, Cold War Kids), and dinosaurs (James Taylor, Steve Miller Band), the 2010 lineup brings together several acts that can help a disparate crowd of locals sway in sync with the palms.
In addition to the Flaming Lips and Weezer, anticipated performances include New York rapper Nas and reggae star Damian Marley, who collaborated for the anticipated Distant Relatives album, as well as reggae-pop star Sean Kingston, roots rockers Ben Harper and Relentless 7, and legacy acts with some life left ZZ Top and the B-52's. Each artist crosses cultural and generational lines in ways that should keep the crowds mixing.
Currently, however, no one on the SunFest lineup is as close to the height of their powers as the Flaming Lips. The band's 12th album, Embryonic, is a riotous double album packed with vintage keyboards, a few cameos from Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O, and Coyne's echoing dreamscape lyrics, as vivid as any he has ever created. Pitchfork Media notched the album at a 9.0 out of a possible 10.0, and lusty internet dwellers latched onto the "Watching the Planets" video, which features a very nude crowd of Lips fans surrounding Coyne and his gerbil ball.
The Flaming Lips' latest project is a reinterpretation of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, featuring brash electro-pop star Peaches and loquacious Henry Rollins. Coyne says that they will perform the album in its entirety at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee later this summer, but that a song or two could trickle out during their SunFest set.
Sullivan laughs when asked about the possibility of mass streaking when the Lips' set begins Thursday night. "That might be new to SunFest," she says. "But generally people are on good behavior when they come here; even Ludacris was."
Coyne obviously isn't bothered by a typically amped and underdressed crowd and makes no promises that it won't happen. "It's not an overtly sexual act," he says. "I think people can understand that we're being respectful and that the energy of the music is what causes that reaction."
To see the rest of the SunFest lineup click here.