If we were to think of bands simply in terms of color, The Black Keys would be grainy black and white, and The Flaming Lips an exploding bag of Skittles.
The Black Keys, which headline Consol Energy Center tonight, are a sludgy blues-rock duo from Akron while opener Flaming Lips is busy blasting off into the wide universe of psychedelic space-rock.
"Even though they're a young band and kind of a hipster band," says Flaming Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, "I see it as the two opposite ends of the spectrum of what people are doing with music in 2013. They're like all tube amplifiers and vintage gear and very reverent to the past, and, us, we're making music with iPads and whatever. It's just a different trip."
The Black Keys -- Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney -- turned up in 2002 having soaked up such influences as Junior Kimbrough, Robert Johnson and Son House. They started in dingy clubs and toughed it out for a decade to become a surprise arena headliner, thanks in part to producer Danger Mouse taking the band from lo-fi to hi on "Tighten Up," the funky Grammy-winning single from 2010's "Brothers."
It set the stage for "El Camino," which was even more of a fit for your classic-rock station. It debuted at No. 2, won three Grammys including Best Rock Album and its first two singles, "Lonely Boy" and "Gold on the Ceiling," seemed to be everywhere in 2012.
Its current tour features four shows with The Flaming Lips, a venerable indie band that the Keys were opening for just three years ago.
The Oklahoma City band, dating back to 1983, is in the midst of a creative frenzy that started with the double album "Embryonic" in 2009. Since then, just for starters, The Flaming Lips have reimagined Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon"; released the "Gummy Song Skull" EP with some of the EPs packaged in a life-sized gummy skull; cut an EP with Lightning Bolt; recorded a six-hour song; recorded a 24-hour song; jammed with Ke$ha, Nick Cave, Erykah Badu and others on "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends"; broke Jay-Z's Guinness World Record for the most live concerts (eight) in 24 hours; and appeared in a Super Bowl commercial.
During the making of "Heady Fwends," somewhere in the wee hours, Mr. Drozd started working on the seed for "The Terror," a 13th album that is the essence of an aural nightmare. Loneliness, terror, dread, depression, it's all there in the noisy droning dissonance. A few factors have been cited, including the breakup of Pittsburgh-born frontman Wayne Coyne's long-term relationship and a temporary drug relapse for Mr. Drozd. But it's also the sound of musical exhaustion.
"I don't think we would have made this record if we hadn't done all this stuff the previous two years leading up to it," Mr. Drozd says. "By the end of all that, I had no musical ideas. I usually have a pile of things I'm working on. Well, by the time we finished the 24-hour song, everything in the pile had been thrown into [that]."
When they were wrapping up "Heady Fwends," he says, "I was just kind of off on my own, making sounds for no explicit reason. Wayne would come in and out and see what I was doing and he really responded and it jumped off from there. We decided to do a few songs in the same vein where it's not really chords and it's not really rock music, per se. It's these droning synth sounds. There's a lot more I could say about what was going on in our personal lives and stuff, but like any other human being, you go through periods where things aren't going exactly like you want."
The band, known for its over-the-top celebrations with balloons, confetti and human-sized hamster ball, is rolling out a new stage production with Mr. Coyne ensconced tangled in a rig with a baby doll sprouting long tentacles. The band continues to work it out on this mini-tour playing "some of the more evil-sounding music we have."
"It's tough to not fall into the same trap," Mr. Drozd says. "I think that's how Wayne started to feel, that people know my space bubble is going to be there and people dancing on stage and confetti and big balloons, and he was thinking 'This is becoming like a Las Vegas schmaltzy show.' It was starting to feel like a caricature of us. We might get back to that, but it's going to be a lot of other things as well."
On the other side of the Lips spectrum is "Lipsa," the forthcoming full-length album with Ke$ha that is certain to befuddle both fan bases.
"On the first level, it's the gimmick idea that appealed to Wayne," Mr. Drozd says. "He loves the shock value. For me personally, there's a lot more to her than I gave her credit for. She's a super talented musician, very creative, very driven and just one of those people with an anything-goes attitude. She's really just living life wildly to the fullest, and that really appeals to Wayne. We realized she might bring something out in us that might never have come out, just being young and irreverent and not giving a [damn] about rock's history and rock's past."
We can say with near certainty that Black Keys fans won't ever have to worry about "Key$ha."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: scottmervis_pg.