The Flaming Lips | “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1”

A lot has been said about the Flaming Lips’ live shows. Q Magazine named them one of the 50 bands to see before you die. People follow them across the country like they followed the Dead in the 70s, hitting every festival date on their summer tours. Videos of Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, running through the audience in a bubble, get thousands of plays on YouTube. Hundreds of people dressed up as sunflowers and Santa Clauses prance around on stage – the show has gone from being an elaborate live show (an anomaly in indie rock) to a something of a legend.

I hadn’t seen the Lips before, but always kept some level of doubt in the back of my mind that the show could be that great. It’s incredibly frustrating that the band’s perception tends to be focused more on mushroom trips and giant laser bubbles than music. You pay money to hear songs live, and experience a different side of a band – when this gets obstructed by theatrics, it’s as if the band is compensating for a lack of live abilities (note: Arcade Fire’s 2007 Black Mirror tour, with fish-eyed cameras projecting every member of the band…what is this, stadium chamber folk?), or confidence in their music standing on its own. And after 2006’s lackluster At War With the Mystics, it’s plausible that this is exactly what happened to the Flaming Lips; their songs and fans have always been drugged out, and anyone who has taken drugs knows it’s pretty easy to get distracted by lots of colors, lights, and generally shiny shit.

The Flaming Lips headlined night three of the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival, and by the end of their frustratingly short set, the point of their live show finally made sense to me. The entire band (sans Coyne) emerged from the birth canal of a projected dancing woman. Every other song incrementally bigger balloons were dropped on the audience, until the balloons were so big that it required four to five people to bounce them away. Coyne began the set blitzing through the audience in his famous bubble. And most of the Lips’ bangers were played in a stripped down, forced sing-along, Coyne demanding that the audience sing louder, have more fun. Coyne said stuff like that repeatedly throughout the night: get louder, dance more, move more, have more fun. At some points, it was as if he was obsessed with the audience enjoying themselves. And, maybe it’s because, for the Lips, the quality of the show is purely a cooperative effort – it matters just as much that you don’t suck as it does them. So when “Yoshimi Part 1” was played in this bare bones way, everyone better sing, or else it’ll be ruined. Luckily that night, everyone sang. As is hopefully translated by the video below, it was as awesome as any story I’d ever heard about the band. Video after the jump.

by Max Sebela

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