The Flaming Lips released Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in 2002, the year you turned 25. You loved that album. You were living in a dilapidated East Side manor with your girlfriend and six or seven roommates. You were never really sure who lived there and who was just…there. Some of your roommates worked at a nearby liquor store, ensuring the house was never wanting for booze. All of you were drunk all of the time. You remember buying Yoshimi at Atomic Records as a girl sang along to the title track playing over the store’s speakers. Oh Yoshiiiiimi…They don’t belieeeeeve me…
You saw The Flaming Lips two years later, at Coachella 2004. You loved that trip. You went with two friends and stayed at a gay motel that you think is the same gay motel that Trixie Mattel bought and renovated a few years ago. Coachella was relatively modest in those days but the lineup was nuts: Radiohead, The Cure, the newly reunited Pixies, Beck, Kraftwerk, The Flaming Lips. You remember Wayne Coyne coming out in his giant hamster ball. You remember the boxing nun puppet, the fake blood. One of your friends had smuggled some drugs on her person and all three of you were high all of the time. You saw the other friend just days ago at Locust Street Festival with her husband and two kids.
You saw The Flaming Lips six years later, in 2010, at The Riverside Theater. You loved that show. You had just started freelancing for a local paper and you were a year away from beginning your unlikely career as a professional writer—an unlikely career you still have today. You had two reviewer tickets but you went alone, as always, and got stoned from the people smoking around you. You remember Wayne Coyne making his entrance through a giant neon vagina. Or was it a giant neon eye? No, a giant neon vagina sounds right.
On Tuesday night, you saw The Flaming Lips again at The Riverside Theater. They played Yoshimi in its entirety, plus another 90 minutes or so of greatest hits and deep cuts. You loved it. Giant inflatable pink robots that looked like those old M.U.S.C.L.E. men towered over Coyne and the five-piece Lips as they belted out opener “Fight Test.” Lasers, confetti, and smoke machines filled the packed theater. A giant video screen complete with endlessly trippy visuals flashed the “Fight Test” lyrics that have been seared in your brain for two decades: “Cause I’m a man, not a boy / And there are things you can’t avoid / You have to face them / When you’re not prepared to face them.” You’d be lying if you said you didn’t cry.
Yoshimi‘s big songs—”Fight Test,” the title track, the gorgeous and devastating “Do You Realize??”—were beautifully rendered and bombastically performed, all complemented, of course, by the Lips’ alternately hi- and lo-tech stage show. (The video screen looked like it cost a fortune, but the crowd was equally enthralled when Coyne fiddled with a handheld bubble machine or swung a work light over his head.) The record’s lesser-known tracks were stunning, too; “In The Morning Of The Magicians” and “Are You a Hypnotist??” were semi-deep-cut highlights. Coyne repeatedly told the crowd that the show was being recorded, and his calls for screams were met with a deafening roar that rarely let up for three hours. “You guys might be the loudest audience we’ve played for,” he said. “And that’s saying something.”
After Yoshimi, and following a 20-minute intermission, The Flaming Lips returned for a grab-bag of other material: 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly,” 2006’s “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” 2017’s “How??” and much more. Twenty-twenty’s well-received American Head was represented by three songs: “Will You Return / When You Come Down,” “Mother I’ve Taken LSD,” and “Assassins Of Youth.” “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” from 1999’s beloved The Soft Bulletin made an appearance, and two tracks from that album capped the show: “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” and “Race For The Prize.” Amidst it all, the band even made time for a Madonna cover (“Borderline”), with Coyne flaying the stage with a metallic sheet/whip. It all ended with a big (inflatable) FUCK YEAH MILWAUKEE.
In the years since you last saw The Flaming Lips, you’ve associated their shows with gonzo props and over-the-top spectacle. Those traits were certainly on display Tuesday night (yes, Coyne sang from inside a plastic bubble at one point), but you had forgotten just how much Flaming Lips shows hammer home the simple and profound idea of love. Before “Do You Realize??” Coyne delivered a lengthy soliloquy on the song’s theme: telling the people you love that you love them, and telling them now instead of after they had gone. Is there anything more important than that? After the song, your friend from a local radio station who was sitting behind you told you that she loved you. You told her that you loved her, too. A random dude who had spent the entire show staring at the lasers suddenly dipped out of his trance and reached over his seat to shake your hand. Another random dude ran through the aisles giving everyone a high five.
Love may be the answer, but Flaming Lips shows are also about the flip side to love: loss, sadness, death, and the daunting but vital task of facing them head on. Coyne talked about how the person next to you might be suffering. He talked about how the simple act of coming together and enjoying a show was a powerful tonic. He talked about the need to scream.
You thought about this. You thought about a family member still reeling from the loss of a partner. You thought about a family friend hurt by the actions of her child. You thought about another friend, also at the show and somewhere down in the pit, who had had an exceedingly rough year. You thought about yourself, bruised and beaten from the pandemic and still in a glazed-over state of anger and confusion and grief. You wondered when, or if, any of you would feel normal again. You screamed.
But, like the song says, you’re a man now, not a boy. A woman, not a girl. An adult, not a child. On the bus ride home from Tuesday night’s show, you continued to think about your pain and sadness, your hurt and resentment, and about all the people and places long gone, never to return. But for the first time in a long time, they didn’t sting as much. For the first time in a long time, they seemed manageable. For the first time in a long time, basking in the afterglow of a lovely and cathartic show, you felt prepared to face them.
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