The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated concerts as we know them. With venues shut down nationwide and no widespread touring until there's a vaccine, the only ways to experience live music have required a lot of creativity. Because 2020 has been the year of ticketed live streams, drive-in concerts, and distanced "pod events," it's easy to speculate on the future of live music in a pandemic. How can concerts safely return at scale? How will large gatherings be safe? Will we have to wear weird space suits? But if you ask Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne the future of concerts might include inflatable plastic bubbles, which he calls “space bubbles.”
If you've been to a Flaming Lips show, chances are you've seen Coyne perform and crowdsurf in one of these bubbles. But now, thanks to coronavirus, the Flaming Lips are now hosting shows where the audience is in bubbles too. The band first debuted the bubble performances in June for appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon but now, they're gearing up to host full concerts. "I mean, it seems absurd, but we at first were just doing it as not a joke, but just as a kind of funny thing, and now it's becoming kind of serious and real," Wayne told Brooklyn Vegan last week. Coyne said that they were planning on hosting concerts with 100 bubbles in a 4,000 capacity venue sometime after the election.
On Monday, the Flaming Lips appeared to do a test run of a full show at Oklahoma City venue the Criterion. They played two songs from their latest album American Head and each audience member had their own personal bubble. Coyne posted a video of the gig on his Instagram and the whole thing pretty nuts, so we asked Dayzie Smith, a Tulsa-based dispensary worker who attended the impromptu concert, on what it was like. And yes—we covered what would happen if you had to go to the bathroom. Read on below.
How did you end up being one of the fans to see the Flaming Lips in a bubble?
My way into the show was a bit different than most because I'm friends with one of the band's drummers, Matt Duckworth. I live in Tulsa and my friend and I were going to Oklahoma City to pick up a dresser that we bought online. So I texted Matt and asked if he wanted to get dinner or see us while we're in town. And then he replied, "Oh, just come to the Criterion. We're doing this thing." I didn't know anything about it at all whatsoever. I was just told what time to be there. I showed up and had no idea it was going to be us in bubbles.
What happened when you got to the venue?
When we got to the venue, they had a split up into like four different lines. And they had to fill out forms about getting in the bubbles. They gave us wristbands that coincided with our assigned so I was B1R5, which was bubble one, row five. Then they ran us inside the venue super quickly with our masks on and they'd run us to our bubble and told us to get inside as quickly as we could. There were guys in hazmat suits who stuck a leaf blower in the zipper of the bubble. Then we'd just have to stand there while he blew us up and then zip it back up ourselves. It was a surprisingly quick process and they filled up the bubble in less than a minute.
What did it feel like inside the bubble?
I can't give a full idea of what it would be like for an entire concert because this was only two songs, which they played twice. But the bubble was so big that it wasn't really claustrophobic at all. It was almost that you had too much room. You wanted to put all your limbs up, like be a square and roll around in it.
What was the sound like?
It felt really echoey. It was weird, because you could hear everything inside your bubble. Everything was echoing inside of your bubble. And it sounded like everyone could hear what was happening inside your bubble, If you snapped or clapped or laughed, it was just so echoey and crazy. It felt like the sound could travel through all the other bubbles, because they're kind of pushed together. But I talked to my friend next to me and she said she couldn't hear anything from my bubble. So I guess you could only hear the music.
Did that affect how the music sounded?
Yeah, it sounded a little distorted or kind of underwater, but not too much but enough to notice. I mean, with it being the Flaming Lips that it would make sense for their music.
So it's probably not something other acts who make different kinds of music would want to replicate unless they're ok with having a distorted sound quality.
Definitely. I'm trying to think of a band where it wouldn't work without sounding mean but I'll bet there will be no solo acoustic sets in bubbles.
What rules did they give you for being in a bubble?
Honestly, none. I'm sure they would at a full concert but when we got in there were two bottles of water and a rag. My first thought was "good there's something I can pee in." But they did announce that the bubble can get sweaty. If you're like, getting kind of crazy. So there's a rag in there to wipe off the condensation. So some people who were dancing a lot harder you couldn't see them, their bubble just looked like it was full of fog. I'm sure they had to wipe it down pretty hard.
Wait, they didn't tell you what to do if you need to pee?
Not when I was in there. I would assume they would have to take breaks and rebubble everyone.
I can't imagine having to pee inside a Flaming Lips Space Bubble.
Yeah, imagine being drunk in a bubble? It sounds a little bit crazy but also a little bit tight. You're so compact with everyone that you're just bouncing off everyone else. It's kind of like a human ball pit.
It must've been fun to hear live music again.
Everyone was so fucking stoked that they just started jumping up. So all these bubbles were bouncing at the same time, up and over and then they were bouncing off each We looked little fish eggs. The whole thing looked crazy. You know when you're underwater, but not that deep. And you look above up towards the top of the water and you can kind of see that everything looks a little distorted but really pretty, it kind of looked like that. Being in a bubble and the way the lights were made everything look so cool.
Would you go to a full show in a bubble?
Oh, definitely. But I'm a little bit of dumbass. So I would probably do it without thinking of the hard stuff like what I'd do if there was a fire or what to do if I needed to go the bathroom. I would probably pee my pants in a bubble.