In 2006, rapper Jay-Z set a world record by performing seven concerts in seven cities in 24 hours. The record has remained unchallenged for the past six years because, well, who would be crazy enough to attempt such an insane feat? The answer is obvious: The Flaming Lips. But the band decided to up the ante by traveling by bus rather than Jay-Z’s preferred method of flight travel.
They mapped a route through the Delta region of the American South with shows planned in eight cities, beginning in Memphis and ending in New Orleans. Officials from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand throughout the entire tour to make sure the group followed all the rules which included no speeding, no drinking and no drugs, just to name a few. If you have the internet, you probably already know the results. But for those of you just tuning in, the tour was a success!
Before the record attempt kicked off, frontman Wayne Coyne expressed only a vague interest in actually claiming the title.
“I care a little bit about the Guinness Book of World Records, but I don’t really care that much,” Coyne explained. “The idea that we get to play a lot of these strange little venues, and this caravan of Flaming Lips fanatics, utter fanatics, will be taking drugs and joining us all through the night. To me, that’s already—we win.”
The band’s primary concern was with everyone’s safety and providing their audience the best possible show within the extreme confines of the situation. “If you love someone, then you’re ready for them,” Coyne said. “When they come to your house, you have toilet paper for them.” (Wayne is a master of metaphors.)
Before the clock actually started ticking, the band treated its Memphis audience to a pre-show full of typical Flaming Lips antics like megaphones shooting colored smoke, a giant screen zoomed in Wayne’s face, and dancers dressed as Wizard of Oz characters. The mayor of Memphis made an appearance at the show to give it his blessing saying, “All great things start in Memphis. We got Elvis. We got B.B.” Mayor Wharton had to leave shortly after for an event where he was introducing the First Lady, but expressed great pleasure with the opportunity to also introduce what he dubbed “the First Band.”
To break the record, The Flaming Lips were required to play at least 15 minutes in each city for it to officially count as a show. The sets averaged out to about three or four songs, mostly consisting of tracks from the recently released collaborative album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends along with several covers. After Memphis, the band set out for Mississippi stopping for a juke joint performance in Clarksdale, then on to Oxford to cover Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” and “The Rain Song” with a little help from Grace Potter. Potter also provided a particularly hilarious moment from the tour when she noticed the Guinness official standing awkwardly on the side of the stage, obviously a little overwhelmed with the insanity that comes with any Flaming Lips show. “Is he going to stand there the whole time?” Potter asked. “He’s turning me on.”
In Jackson, Miss., Neon Indian played a dance-inducing opening set for the 4 a.m. show.
When The Flaming Lips arrived, Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo remained onstage to join the band in their Fwends collaboration, “Is David Bowie Dying?” before transitioning into a tribute to Bowie with a cover of “Heroes.” After the sun came up, the band performed in Hattiesburg where they were joined by legendary singer/songwriter Jackson Browne. The set suffered a lot of technical difficulties, and the sound wasn’t the best. But, hey, at least we got to see the band and Browne sing “These Days” (even though it accidentally got cut a little short).”
The audience in Biloxi got to cool off in a pool at the Hard Rock Casino while the band performed an unreleased collaboration with Phantogram and a cover of The Police’s “Invisible Sun.” Then, in Baton Rouge, Wayne & Co. followed Givers onstage to perform a blistering cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” with Nashville psych-rockers Linear Downfall, followed by the Fwends Lightning Bolt-collaboration “I’m Working at NASA on Acid.”
After absolutely no sleep and 700 miles worth driving, we finally arrived at the final destination: The House of Blues in New Orleans. MNDR opened the show (not Grimes as previously reported) as the venue steadily filled up with fans. The final record-breaking set featured all the trappings of a full-fledged Flaming Lips show complete with confetti cannons, giant balloons, duct tape, lasers shot from giant hands, streamers, and of course Wayne’s giant human hamster ball. This time the show began with an exciting performance of “Do You Realize??” which closed out the majority of the previous shows on the tour (and the majority of their concerts in general).
The band hit their required 15-minute mark and seized the record during “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” Two formally dressed Guinness representatives came on stage to make the record official and present the band with an award. Coyne called the experience an “absurd joy,” but when asked if the band would attempt to break the record again should they be usurped, he responded with an emphatic, “NO!” Can you blame them?
The band played an extended set after breaking the record, closing the night, and the tour, with a moving rendition of the Soft Bulletin track “What is the Light?” Although the trip was grueling for everyone involved, the band stayed on their game the entire time, and the final show had to be one of their best. If there was any doubt that The Flaming Lips are one of the finest (and most ridiculous) touring bands in the country before, it’s all been squelched. And for those who disagree, let’s see nine shows in nine cities. We’ll come along for the ride.