The first year we were married, I worked in an un-airconditioned warehouse in Oklahoma City while my husband worked his way through flight school. Whenever I was having a bad day, my husband would put on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and it never failed to cheer me up. Despite being in the same city as The Flaming Lips, we never saw them live; we certainly never could have afforded tickets to one of their concerts, as I made just over the amount that would have qualified us for food stamps.
Seventeen years later, after moving to Colorado and after going a year without attending a live concert due to the COVID pandemic, we finally bought tickets to a Flaming Lips in Oklahoma City for their final space bubble concert, for a night we happened to be in Oklahoma for a Formula Vee race.
We’d reserved a hotel room within walking distance of the venue so we didn’t have to worry about parking our truck and trailer hauling the race car. Normally, this would have meant we could both drink at the concert and then walk back to the hotel, but it turns out there is no open bar at space bubble concerts. We did walk to a nearby restaurant and enjoyed several craft beers ahead of time. My husband ordered an enormous antipasto platter that we couldn’t finish and two pizzas, including a surprisingly good brisket and poblano pepper pizza. (“Tyler would tell us to order it,” he said, referring to the economist Tyler Cowen’s advice to order the most seemingly out of place item on a menu, because there is probably a good reason it is on there. Fortunately, the pizzas only came in one size, so that I didn’t antagonize my husband by order the largest size, per engineers’ advice.) The antipasto platter included some roasted broccoli, which I couldn’t help trying. I will point out that I resisted eating all of the roasted broccoli, which I really wanted to do. More on that later.
The concert tickets said that doors opened at 7, so we made our way over to the venue around 7:30. “Doors open” meant we could collect an envelope with wrist bands and then stand in our assigned rectangle chalked marked into the sidewalk out front. We were in row 2, bubble 2. I have to say that having a place to stand and not having people on either side of you in a regular line was nice.
We each got wanded. I was instructed to just take the things out of my pocket that would set the wand off, and I responded that probably all of it would set it off. Out came the usual (wallet, sunglasses case, money clip, fingernail clippers, lip balm, phone) and two items in the deep pockets of my BDU trousers brought especially for this concert: a pulse ox meter and a CO2 meter.
Around 8:15 a guy came out and explained to all of us what would happen next and encouraged us to use the bathroom NOW. At 8:30 we finally went inside. The floor of the venue was covered in deflated plastic bubbles. Row 1 were still getting into theirs.
We followed the people in front of us almost all the way to the far side of the room and found our bubble. We stepped through the unzipped slit and pulled the plastic up around us and over our heads. This was pretty claustrophobic. But right then a staff member with a leaf blower started inflating our bubble. We zipped up the zipper so only the tip of the leaf blower was sticking in our bubble.
The bubble filled up with air quite quickly, and we zipped up the zipper the rest of the way as soon as the guy with the leaf blower pulled it out.
We were now alone in a bubble with some stuff at the bottom of it. We could take off our masks!
This whole time an instructional video was playing on a screen on the stage. It explained that we had a little battery operated fan, a bottle of water, a commemorative bandana, a towel, and a sign (on the other side it said, “IT’S HOT IN HERE”),
There were some also some glasses that made the lights look cool.
The last item in the bubble was a wireless speaker with which the fan caused interference when run next to it.
Pretty much immediately after closing the bubble, it became uncomfortably hot, and we took off our flannel shirts. At this point, the carbon dioxide meter began alarming, so we had to turn the alarm off. Pretty soon the carbon dioxide stopped displaying anything but zeros. We finally figured out that it wasn’t malfunctioning but that it had reached a CO2 level so high that it couldn’t show a reading.
But once the concert started, it was easier to put up with how uncomfortable it was in the bubble. The band started playing from inside their individual bubbles, and confetti and beach balls dropped from above.
An advantage of being in the bubble was that we didn’t get confetti in our hair or get bonked in the nose with beach balls. We did have fun trying to punch our bubble at exactly the right time a beach ball was landing on it to launch the beach ball back into the air.
The band started off with a great song to start the set, “Race for the Prize.”
Two scientists are racing
For the good of all mankind
Both of them side-by-side
Locked in heated battle
For the cure that is their prize
But it’s so dangerous
But they’re determined
Theirs is to win
If it kills them
They’re just humans
With wives and children
Upwards to the vanguard
Where the pressure is too high
Under the microscope
Hope against hope
Forging for the future
But to sacrifice their lives
Both of them side-by-side
This song was released in 1999, and I’ve listened to it multiple times, but tonight it made me think of Dr. Katalin Karikó and Dr. Lisa Jackson.
Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, emerged from his bubble to hold up a couple of custom balloons.
Wayne had to get a new bubble every so often to sing in because his bubble kept fogging up. Ours started collecting condensation as well, thus the towel provided.
The leaf blower guys came by regularly, and they would mercifully aim the leaf blower at each of our faces, which felt so good. We only requested more air by holding up our sign a couple of times.
It was during one of these fresh air feeds that I couldn’t hold it in any longer and let loose the result of eating the broccoli earlier. So, yes, we were then trapped in a bubble with my fart.
The worst part was when the concert ended and we had to wait for all of the people in the back to exit first, which made me rethink the wisdom of getting a bubble in the second row. At some point our little fan had stopped, so I tried fanning with the sign, until my husband said, “That just causes you to produce more carbon dioxide.” Still, we were checking our oxygen levels with the pulse ox meter, and our oxygen levels were fine.
Still, it was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad to have done it. I also never want to do it again.
The band played a song off their new album, but most of the concert was their old hits, including several songs from Yoshimi. The sound quality was predictably not good, and I’m not sure that our portable speaker played anything but canned applause (you couldn’t really hear the people in the other bubbles). I don’t know if I can explain why I enjoy Yoshimi so much. A bit part is the lyrics, which are often sad but hopeful at the same time. (They also played “She Don’t Use Jelly”, which possibly has the most vapid lyrics of the entire 1990s.) The hit song off Yoshimi is “Do You Realize,” which, of course, they were going to play. But having lost someone important in my life five days previously, was especially poignant.
One, two, three, four
Do you realize
That you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize
We’re floating in space?
Do you realize
That happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize
That everyone you know someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes
Let them know you realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Do you realize?