Flaming Lips, Reggie Watts & Eric Andre 6.22.23

Mission Ballroom
Denver, CO

Words & Photos by Andrew Wyatt

Incidental moments, like simply hearing the wavering tone of a person’s voice can lead to unexpectedly dramatic conclusions. About 25 years ago a little-known (to Americans) drummer of the Japanese band, the Boredoms, found herself in a recording studio with the Flaming Lips adding background vocals that brought to mind an unsettling thought. After listening to the playback of her screams, Yoshimi P-We commented that the piercing, primal quality of her voice sounded like she was battling monsters. As the story goes, the producer agreed, commenting that her screams sounded like she was either having sex with or being attacked by robots. Soon afterward their innocuous comments ignited the inspiration for the title song that would also become the name of the album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. As the electronic chirping of synthesizers rub against the gentle acoustic guitar melody in the title track, an epic struggle is engaged. In the intervening years since the song and album were released, numerous fans and writers have layered the album with just as many interpretations. There’s the battle between good and evil and life and mortality. Some say the song/album portrays the fight between the individual and the hyper-technological world. The song must represent the fight to retain one’s sense of compassion while not succumbing to be assimilated to become another robot.

Maybe. Perhaps all of this is true. Pink is a color that tends to represent compassion and frailty of being human. And the heartbreaking ephemeral, finite nature of mortality continuously pricks the ethereal beauty of their songs. Life is filled with struggle. But all that seems so fucking abstract. Yoshimi, as portrayed in the song, was a city employee with a black belt in karate. And she was chopping up some bad muthafuckers. So, there had to be something more tangible about the Flaming Lips shows that grabbed hold of me like a wad of bubblegum rubbed into the rubber sole of a canvas shoe while cruising the aisle of a thrift store pushing a metal cart with a squeaky front wheel. Yeah, something like that, something that sticks forever. And as the confetti swirled above my head last weekend at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, I couldn’t help but realize there was something more that drives myself and other fans to their shows.

This year’s Flaming Lips tour is a celebration of the 25-year anniversary of the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. They begin each show following the track list from beginning to end before moving to other tunes. And yes, there are the 20-foot inflatable pink robots, copious amounts of confetti, lots of lasers, wardrobe changes, flood lights, and other sonic and visual trappings.

The Denver show had the added layer that the performance was a benefit concert for a psychedelic research non-profit called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS for short. Two comedians, Reggie Watts and Eric Andre, known for their avocation for psychedelic research, opened the show. Set alongside trance-like DJ sets, the experience felt like a bit of a mishmash experience, kind of like being on a psychedelic trip. But as soon as the band took the stage, I was instantly reminded why the Flaming Lips and their eponymous album resonates with me all these years later. When I first saw the band 20 years ago, I was barely out of shedding a lifetime cocoon of being a Southern Baptist preacher to becoming a live music/festival photographer-principally induced by a psychedelic trip. Oh, there was quite a stage production even then. The life-size hamster ball, the requisite confetti, dancing Santas on stage. Of course, the experience was a virtual cornucopia of sensory delights. But it wasn’t the band’s impish sense of psychedelic whimsy that brought me to tears. It wasn’t the big, abstract ruminations that made me laugh and cry simultaneously. It was, and still is something far simpler: the reminder that we are human.

Life is brutishly short. And in the face of that realization there is only response worth dropping into the squeaky shopping cart of our souls, and that is love. Lead Singer Wayne Coyne frequently exhorted the Mission Ballroom crowd to love friends, neighbors, strangers nearby and far. One of the last words projected on the expansive stage screen behind the band was the word, LOVE. He exhorted fans to love the band, the music, the moment. Love all the incidental moments. Even though it is so easy just to become another robot in an atomtronic world. As I walked out in the rain-drenched summer night picking pieces of confetti from my hair and wondered if perhaps love is the incidental moment and the primal scream that can become the dramatic, everlasting conclusion. Perhaps there is a little bit of Yoshimi in us all and armed to the teeth with a black belt in love, perhaps we can chop up some bad muthafuckers too. And then, finally, this world can be a better place to live before we die.


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