Flaming Lips stage unique 'space bubble' concert in Oklahoma

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

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The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne told the BBC what it's been like to embrace a new kind of gig during a global pandemic

The Flaming Lips have staged a unique pair of gigs in Oklahoma, with both the band and their audience inside individual inflatable balls.

Each show accommodated 100 bubbles, holding up to three people each, with the band inside their own capsules.

The concept came from frontman Wayne Coyne, who often rolls over the crowd in a Zorb ball during the band's gigs.

Speaking ahead of the concerts, Coyne said they would be "safer than going to the grocery store".

Inside each bubble was a high frequency supplemental speaker - which helped prevent the sound being muffled - as well as a water bottle, a battery-operated fan, a towel and a "I gotta go pee/hot in here" sign.

If it got too hot, the bubble was refilled with cool air using a leaf blower, and fans who needed the bathroom were escorted by venue staff once they had put on a mask and stepped outside their cocoon.

The shows were postponed from their original dates in December due to a spike in coronavirus cases in Oklahoma before Christmas.

The band held a test run for the concerts in October after debuting the idea in a one-song performance for Stephen Colbert's US chat show last June.

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"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," Coyne told Rolling Stone last month.

"I think it's a bit of a new normal - you might go to a show, you might not, but I think we're going to be able to work it out."

Friday's show saw the band play classics including Do You Realize, She Don't Use Jelly and Race For The Prize alongside tracks from last year's American Head album.

They also played a cover of Daniel Johnston's True Love Will Find You in the End on what would have been the singer's 60th birthday.

The gigs were filmed by a professional crew, and cameraman Nathan Poppe documented the process of putting the show together on Twitter.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

He explained that the ground floor of The Criterion theatre was divided into a 10x10 grid, with a space bubble inside each square.

Poppe added that, because the sound of the audience was muted, clapping was replaced by people "punching the top of their bubble".

The success of the concerts raises the question: Could other bands replicate the experience?

The answer seems to be yes, as long as the right venue is found and staff and audience members take reasonable precautions.

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Speaking to TMZ last year, Coyne explained that you need a lot of open space around the venue so that masked ticketholders can remain socially-distanced before they get into the bubbles - a process that takes about 20 minutes.

The bubbles, he added, hold enough oxygen for three people to breathe for "over an hour and 10 minutes" before they need to be refreshed, although a towel is needed to wipe down the condensation.

According to an instructional video posted on the singer's Instagram feed, the concert ends with everyone rolling their bubbles to the exit door, where they must re-attach masks before unzipping and leaving the venue.

"Safety, safety, safety," Coyne told fans. "But fun too!"

Meanwhile in New Zealand...

Image source, Getty Images

While packed concerts may be little more than a hazy memory in most parts of the world, 22,000 fans flocked to see rock band Six60 in Hastings, New Zealand, on Saturday with no need for masks or social distancing.

It was the second date of their tour, after another 20,000 watched them play in Waitangi last weekend.

Image source, Getty Images

The fans were asked to check in to the venue by scanning a QR code, and to have a Covid-tracing Bluetooth app enabled in case they did come into close contact with anyone with the virus.

The country, with a population of five million, has recorded 1,927 confirmed cases and 25 deaths over the course of the pandemic. On Sunday, it reported its first case outside a quarantine facility in more than two months.

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