The Flaming Lips Take Flight at the Salt Shed

Arts Reporter Toby Chan covers the Flaming Lips concert on May 5 at the Salt Shed in honor of the 20th anniversary of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”


Matthew Poulton

Accompanied by an array of lights and lasers, lead vocalist Wayne Coyne appeared centerstage, inside his signature bubble, between four colossal pink robot inflatables.

By Toby Chan, Arts Reporter

On May 5, American psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips played at the Salt Shed. Accompanied by an array of lights and lasers, lead vocalist Wayne Coyne appeared centerstage, inside his signature bubble, between four colossal pink robot inflatables. Guitar strapped across his shoulder, Steve Drozd sat stage left behind a keyboard while Derek Brown stood stage right behind another keyboard. Matt Ducksworth Kirksey and Nicholas Ley sported green hair and headbands from behind their drum sets.

When the lights came on, the Flaming Lips kicked off with “Fight Test,” a tune in which the song’s narrator claims not to know “where the sunbeams end and the starlights begin.” “Fight Test,” the first song in the Flaming Lips’ acclaimed 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, launched the anticipating audience into a frenzy. Having declared that “the test is over now,” Wayne paused to address the audience. “We’ll play until they kick us out,” he announced.

The Flaming Lips continued with “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21,” questioning if “it’s wrong to think it’s love” for a robot “who learns to be something more than a machine.” At this point, Wayne clued the audience in: “For those of you who may not know what’s happening at this show, we’re doing an album we made in 2002. We’re doing the entire album from top to bottom. So you might be asking, what the fuck is with these pink robots?” The answer came as the Flaming Lips dived into the fan-favorite “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1.”

Katakana writing appeared as subtitles on the LED screen behind Wayne and his pink robots, drawing excited screams from the crowd. The audience sang along to the Flaming Lips classic about Yoshimi, “a black belt in karate” who “won’t let those robots defeat [her].” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2” followed immediately—a wordless piece that, with its interstellar-sounding guitar riffs and animalistic screams, brilliantly captured Yoshimi’s epic battle with the evil machines.

Following a couple songs from their famous LP, the Flaming Lips gave a thundering rendition of their hit song “Do You Realize??” under a balloon rainbow. The fan favorite electrified the crowd, and Wayne invited the audience to sing along. The song, with its carpe diem motif, asks the audience if they realize that “happiness makes you cry” and that “everyone you know someday will die.” “Do You Realize??” elicited a great deal of emotion from the crowd. “Steven, this could possibly be the best show we’ve ever played,” Wayne said as he turned and spoke to Steve on the keys.

Knowing that the Flaming Lips concert was part of their acclaimed album Yoshimi’s 20th anniversary tour, I talked to a couple of fans ahead of the concert. Ron and Lily told me that it was their first time at a Flaming Lips concert. Recalling their earliest experience with the Flaming Lips, Lily said she had first listened to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on an iPod Touch in middle school.

Other fans’ histories with the 40-year-old band went back even further. Kapil told me that the first time he heard a Flaming Lips song was when he was 16, growing up in the suburbs of Wheaton. The song, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” was on the radio when his mom taught him how to drive in a blue 1989 Toyota Camry. Kapil told me that his mom always laughed because she thought the lyrics were ridiculous. “She passed away two years later. It’s one of my favorite memories of my mother, he said.

After introducing me to a couple of his buddies attending the concert with him, Kapil made a remark on the timelessness of the Flaming Lips’ music. “Music that runs the gamut from a 19 year old—a baby in the grand scheme of things—to people of all ages,” he said. “That’s something.”

Following a brief intermission after playing through Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Flaming Lips continued with their other hits—including “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Assassins of Youth,” and my personal favorite, “Will You Return/When You Come Down.” After “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” Wayne addressed the audience. “The reason that I’ve been asking you all to scream tonight is because…life is beautiful, but there’s also a lot of pain. I know there are people in the audience tonight who are experiencing profound sadness. But these people, they chose not to stay home—they said fuck it and showed up to a Flaming Lips concert.”

The Flaming Lips segued into “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” from their breakout 1993 album The Soft Bulletin. Noting that “they were sad, and yet they rescued everyone,” the song imagined people “lifting up the sun” as a “million came from one.” The song ended with a crescendo of love, with the audience continuously chanting the word “love” as the word appeared on the LED screen in a seemingly never-ending repeat.

The Flaming Lips finished with “Race for the Prize,” a song about two scientists who were locked in a “heated battle for the cure.” “Forging for the future,” the song concluded with Wayne hoisting up a gigantic silver balloon that read “FUCK YEAH CHICAGO.” “Thank you, thank you,” Wayne said to the crowd, who seemed unwilling to believe that the night was ending.