The last time they played Chicago the Flaming Lips seemed downright bored with themselves, bypassing material from their melancholy Clouds Taste Metallic to walk through older tunes. A few months later guitar wizard Ronald Jones quit, leaving the band a trio. But instead of retreating to their punk roots, the Lips surged foward, creating their own do-it-yourself electronic orchestra. At the 1997 South by Southwest festival, front man Wayne Coyne handed out tapes he’d recorded at home, then conducted with a megaphone as 30 car stereos filled a parking garage with a 30-part symphony. Last fall at the CMJ conference in New York, the Lips expanded the concept with 100 boom boxes. And then, around Halloween, Warner Brothers swallowed hard and released Zaireeka, a set of four CDs to be listened to simultaneously on as many stereos. What looked like commercial suicide has generated more press for the Lips than anything since the band’s offbeat 1993 hit, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” and despite the enforced chaos of their execution, songs like “A Machine in India” and “The Big Ol’ Bug Is the New Baby Now” are as good as anything the band’s ever written. This weekend the sideshow finally comes to Chicago. The band will invite about 40 audience members onstage, arm them with boom boxes, and arrange them in sections. Coyne and drummer-keyboardist Steven Drozd will stand on chairs and conduct; bassist Michael Ivins will run the PA from the stage. If you’re paying your $10 in hopes that the Lips might follow the experiment with a live set, don’t bother. A conventional album, recorded at the same time as Zaireeka, is due out later this year, but the Lips’ days as a conventional rock band may be over for good. “We’re limited so much when we have to show up and play with two guitars,” Coyne said a few months ago. “I hope, whatever we do, we can do more and explore more areas, as opposed to reliving stuff we’ve already done.” Friday, 11 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. J.R. JONES

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Chris Johnson.