Last month, the Flaming Lips announced “the world’s first actual Space Bubble live concerts” in their hometown of Oklahoma City in December. Due to the pandemic, those shows have been postponed to January 22nd and 23rd.
Frontman Wayne Coyne tells Rolling Stone the decision came after watching rising Covid-19 case numbers in Oklahoma; over the last week, the state has averaged 2,839 new cases per day. “It’s worse here than it’s ever been,” Coyne says. “We know of an emergency room worker just a couple of nights ago who said someone came in, and they didn’t have any place for them, and they died, and they shouldn’t have died. They were a young person. The mayor is advising us, ‘Let’s not get together in big groups’ … I think we’re just feeling like this is going against what our concerts are really about.”
The band experimented with the concept format at a smaller show in October at the Criterion, a venue in their hometown of Oklahoma City, and found that it to be successful, leading to those December bookings.
Coyne said the band worked hard to make the concerts safe: Fans would wait in line, socially distanced, before being ushered in row-by-row to their designated plastic bubbles. While a maximum of three people were allowed in each bubble, most would contain only one person.
“We collect everybody and then we take them row by row to their bubbles,” Coyne says. “[In October], the whole thing happened in 20 minutes from everybody being inside to everyone being blown up in their space bubble, and that’s the part of it that we wanted to work on. Once you’re in the bubble you can do whatever the fuck you want, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s what we spent most of the time figuring out. The music part of it, we got that shit down.”
Coyne says that, while the concert itself was “safer than going to the grocery store,” the band felt compelled to postpone the show when considering the travel involved for some fans. “If you have to get on a plane, find a hotel — that’s a lot of areas that aren’t our concert. So we’re hoping by the third week in January that all this activity around New Year’s Eve and Christmas will have started to play out. Then we might be able to be in a stable position when we can say, ‘Let’s try to do these space bubble concerts.’”
“I don’t want anybody to think this is some kind of fucking freak party,” Coyne says. “It’s a very restricted, weird event. But the weirdness is so we can enjoy a concert before putting our families and everybody at risk. And I think it can actually work, but just not when it’s this serious here.”
“I think it’s a bit of a new normal — you might go to a show, you might not,” Coyne adds. “But I think we’re going to be able to work it out.”