The Flaming Lips launched a series of shows celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, with a concert at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. The band began the evening by performing the 2002 album in its entirety including the live debut of closing track “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)”. Frontman Wayne Coyne and his band mates went through the incendiary album in its entirety
Its been 20 over years since “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” was released. The Lips had already been around over 20 years before that. Prior to Yoshimi the band had entered an imperial phase with the release of the “Soft Bulletin” in 1999. Emerging during the fabled “Zaireeka” sessions (an album that came on 4 cd’s designed to be played simultaneously): the idea being that they would always sync differently and offer a unique experience for the listener every time. Coyne was experimenting with this on a larger level too with Parking lot Experiments. Designing 40 tapes to be played in tandem on fan’s Car stereos. Their mythology is one of endless re-invention and inspiration. I had experienced them live before and it stayed with me for life. Wayne emerged in hamster ball over the back of the crowd and onto the stage; fans were invited up on stage to participate in animal costumes. Everyone was included and loved. Like a shaman, he asked the crowd to “turn to the person on your left and tell them you love them”. The feel good high from that concert remains to this day.
The Lips have never stood still since, but it’s worthwhile to pay homage to this landmark album in full. The anticipation begins early: the Apollo filled with various Lips superfans. Some wear pink boilersuits with homemade Yoshimi graphics; Others have alien face paint – referencing their movie “Christmas jon Mars”. We gather round a stage that has deflated pink inflatables and Wayne’s trademark bubble. 8:15. They are meant to be on. Time ticks and it gets closer to 8:30. Fitting as opener “Fight Test” begins with a countdown. Wayne enters his bubble and surveys the crowd joyously, encouraging them. The pink inflatables go up to reveal an army of robots surrounding him: “The test begins Nooooooow”. Every moment is deserving of capture as the lyrics flash up on gigantic psychedelic screen one word at a time, investing each one with the meaning it deserves. This wise and humane parable gives way to the journey of “One more Robot” and into the nursery rhyme prettiness of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt 1” and the electronic freakout that follows in Pt 2. The blissful, burbling electronic melancholy of “Morning of the Magicians” with its morning after feel follows. “Are you a hypnotist??” Feels like a beautiful and ascending realisation before landing into “Summertime” and it’s acoustic prettiness. This suite of songs belong as whole. As Wayne pushes up a big inflatable rainbow over his head. One huge moment which the audience knows is coming (due to the albums run order) is “Do you Realize??” – a song emblematic of Coyne’s ability to make the profound seem achingly simple and beautiful. The crowd sing every word back. It is the anthem of whatever significance each and every audience member attaches to it. It is theirs. True joy carved from sad knowing. Coyne once remarked that the song came is if by magic and the Lips are just the vessels delivering it. The album fades out with “All we have is now”, reinforcing that message in a gentler, more melancholy way.
The audience gets their breath back during an intermission, and Wayne promises to give everything until they get “Kicked off stage”. They return with their first hit “She don’t use Jelly” with its joyous sitar alike riff and infectious chorus: “She uses Vaseliiiiiiiine”. Wayne fires a confetti gun over the crowd and humbly repeats “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you” like a mantra. Material from newer albums follows with the soaring “Will you Return, will you come down” and into “Pompei and Gotterdamnung” with its galloping psychedelic flute and airy vocal conjuring bliss amidst the colourful backdrop. Wayne always matches the energy of the music. Here he swirls a flowing feather boa on a pole. The nocturnal whispering march of “Feeling yourself disintegrate” ushers in a “Soft Bulletin” suite:“Love is just to valuable to ignore, for even a second” “Spoonful weighs a ton”, and then “Race for the Prize” form a joyous crescendo to the evening: “Two scientists are racing for the good of all mankind”. Nowadays this feels like a reference to Coyne and Drozd themselves. A fitting closer for a band that have never stopped pushing the limits of invention. Wayne joyously holds aloft some balloons taped together to say “Fuck Yeah London” and they take their leave. Heres to the next 20 years.