The Flaming Lips Troxy London review: “outrageously fun, fiercely authentic”

Flanked by four 20-foot tall inflatable pink robots, spending portions of the evening singing from inside a zorb ball, and even flying a remote-controlled bird around the venue at one point, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips is fully expecting the laughter he receives when he announces, “I don’t really like gimmicks.” 

Because there are even more glorious gimmicks of varying levels of mania throughout a truly unforgettable evening where the band play their breakthrough, acclaimed album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in full for one of the only times in their career thus far.

Troxy, a historic East London venue, certainly earns the title of hidden London gem, located in the former docklands area of Limehouse, a stone’s throw from the capital’s financial centre. 

Originally built as the largest cinema in England in 1933, it suffered damage during the Blitz of WWII, coupled with an exodus from the local area saw it closed until 1960. 

After stints as an opera singing school and a bingo hall, Troxy became a live events space in 2006. And after a major rebuild project in recent years, it is fittingly stunning and quirky to provide the stage for one of the quirkiest bands on Earth.

The Flaming Lips were founded in Oklahoma over in the United States, originally by Wayne Coyne and his brother Mark. And the former Coyne is living proof that even if the only remaining original band member is the frontman, people will still turn out in droves to see you, as Troxy is completely packed out tonight. In fact, this date was added due to their Eventim Apollo show selling out with phenomenal demand. Many of whom are very quirky dressed to celebrate 20 years of the Grammy-winning Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

The lights drop, and a booming voice announces, “One minute!” There’s a big roar as the audience instantly identifies the voice as Coyne’s. The room then explodes into psychedelia as the band arrives on stage. 

It’s about as bonkers as you can comprehend: Coyne gets inside his zorb ball as one roadie gets it ready for him, meanwhile several other roadies begin inflating the four giant pink robots made famous by the album’s title.

The audience are lapping it up in a state of delirium, especially as the album’s title track, and the second biggest-performing single from the record save for Do You Realize??, rolls around for track three. The lyrics flash up on the screen as part of the psychedelic visual backdrop, not that many present need much assistance in belting out every word.

There’s plenty of brief pauses for Coyne to express his gratitude and reminds everyone to keep screaming encouragement, as it’s something he never takes for granted. And it’s very touching when he says he’s glad to be able to create a safe space for “weirdos” like himself to all come together.

It’s bonkers: Coyne gets inside his zorb ball while roadies begin inflating four giant pink robots.

As The Flaming Lips make their way through the LP in its entirety, it takes almost a full song to deflate the robots, and of course, they stand tall again towards the conclusion. All We Have Is Now remains as endearing and vital as it was upon release 20 years ago. And as this first set closes, any thoughts of Do You Realize?? being a tad overplayed by radios worldwide are banished as mass singalongs ensue.

Coyne is keen to ensure we’re all aware this is the first time the band ever play two sets in one night — with the Pink Robots performance wildly successful, they enjoy a short interval before returning to smash out some more hits.

The robots may have left the stage, but that in no way means things calm down for this second set. At one point, seven giant balloons are intermittently sent into the audience, one even making its way onto the balcony. Don’t mention that said balloons look worryingly similar to Rover, who is tasked with ruthlessly tracking down escapees in the 1967 series The Prisoner.

The album sounds just incredible coming out of Troxy’s JBL system — the twin drummers sound so pristine, balanced beautifully with all the synthesiser elements and the effects on Coyne’s voice. Such an acclaimed album calls for flawless sound, and Troxy and JBL serve it up without a blemish.

This second set, hot on the heels of the first, is nothing short of jubilant. The crowd hold their hands aloft with near-religious fervour as Coyne and co take us through some of their greatest numbers, like She Don’t Use Jelly and Waitin’ For A Superman

The crowd are blasted by lasers, a confetti gun by Coyne himself, and the aforementioned bird also flies around the venue. Coyne makes sure we know it took him ages to track one down. Totally worth it. Towards the end, Coyne appears on stage with the most ludicrous balloon that spells out, “Fuck yeah London,” and goodness knows the audience appreciates the token.

Despite having already supported themselves this evening with the first set, there is nonetheless an encore that boasts Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, A Spoonful Weighs a Ton and Race for the Prize. While all the bells and whistles make this concert outrageously fun, its Coyne being so fiercely authentic, and bearing his soul to such an existential degree that makes the evening so unforgettable.

Headliner grabs a conversations with Simon Eaton, head of live at Troxy, about The Flaming Lips coup for the venue, its extensive renovation project over the last few years, and their incredible JBL sound system – the only one of its kind at any venue in the United Kingdom.

Eaton’s role sees him responsible for all live enquiries and bookings, including concerts, club nights, comedy, theatre, dance, cinema and everything in between.

“It was absolutely brilliant, wasn’t it?” he says following The Flaming Lips show. “One of the best shows I’ve seen in a long, long time. I get to watch a lot of things, but that was special.”

Eaton has built up a wealth of experience around London having worked at record labels, for Live Nation which put him charge of many of London’s O2 Academy venues including Brixton, and several other venues including the Barfly, The Garage, The Borderline, Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen and The Mean Fiddler, many of which have sadly closed in tough years for music venues. Happily, though, Troxy is absolutely thriving.

Once artists see JBL on our rider, they know they are in safe hands and don’t need to spend money bringing in extra kit.

Which of course has such a rich history as a venue since opening in 1933. “It was the latest cinema in the country when it opened,” Eaton says.

“King Kong was the opening night film, and there’s lots of King Kong iconography still around the building and we still use the gorilla in most of our branding. It was then owned by the Royal Opera House who just used it as a rehearsal space and it was closed to the public, which was a shame. 

"It was then a bingo hall in the nineties, which might sound a bit naff but they did spend a lot of money on bringing the venue back to life again. We then took it off them in 2006 and made it the event space that it is today!”

A great side note is that Troxy bought Europe’s largest Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ, purchased by The Cinema Organ Society for preservation. And it’s not only the organ that has had so much preservation carried out over the decades – as you can imagine, a huge amount of work has gone into keeping Troxy looking like the jewel it is, especially after earning its grade II listed status. 

The venue’s 18-month closure during the pandemic was a golden opportunity to carry out more vital work. In particular, moving the stage back to where it originally had been in 1933.

And it goes without saying that another big coup for the East London institution is bringing in an exclusive JBL speaker system that can only be found at Troxy. As mentioned earlier, The Flaming Lips sounded unbelievable coming out of the venue’s sound system.

“We use two JBL VTX A12 hang line arrays, 12 VTX J28 subs, four VTX A8 front fills and four VTX A8 under balcony delays. Our desks are Soudcraft VI3000 and Soundcraft Si Performer."

In terms of the process of choosing and bringing the speakers in, Eaton says “we did a tender process and a couple of ‘shoot outs’. There is a huge amount of choice in the world of sound. All we knew is that we wanted to have the best sound in London. We think we’ve done that. 

"The JBL system was installed for a few gigs for us to try in a real-world format, and it was just so good that our decision was easy. Along with that though the ongoing support offered by JBL was unrivaled. We hold a lot of different events here at Troxy so we needed a flexible system. The A12 offered just that.”

And in terms of working with JBL, he says: “We worked closely with Harman and Sound Technology to build a system perfect for our space. Ed at Harman and the whole team are fantastic, they are incredibly passionate about their technology and the way it’s being used. 

It wasn’t just a case of signing on the dotted line and never seeing each other again. They are regularly in the venue tuning or answering questions, offering support if we wish to make adjustments or reconfigure. They have become close friends of the venue and we hope that continues for many years to come.

“Long story short, the system does exactly what it says on the tin. Our team has nothing to complain about because everything works as it’s meant to. The easy rigging versus our previous system has sped the process up and made everyone’s lives easier.”

Headliner then asks how the wider Troxy tech team find working with it: “The sound here is phenomenal. The building was designed acoustically back in the thirties around the Wurlitzer pipe organ, which is still in full working order. So sound has always been paramount. JBL has built a system around our space in order to obtain the best possible audio quality within the space and to keep in line with our protected listed building status, ensuring we don’t infringe on the building's original features.

“With our old system, we found it was regularly removed and stored while touring acts flew their own rigs. Since the JBL has been installed it’s not been taken out once, which is a testament to the quality of the system. Once artist teams see that on our rider, they know they are in safe hands and don’t need to spend money bringing in extra kit.”

Eaton concludes with how wonderfully this year has been going for Troxy, and what he’s most excited for coming up. “It’s only May and we’ve already seen shows from Flaming Lips, Editors, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Yard Act, Viagra Boys, Röyksopp, Shame and Black Veil Brides to name but a few. My favourite so far this year has to be Skrillex, Fred Again… and Four Tet which was amazing, all announced and sold out on the day. There was real electricity in the room. They shot the video for Rumble during the show too for those that weren’t here, which is up on YouTube.

“As for the rest of the year we’ve got loads of good stuff coming up; Le Tigre, two nights of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Mars Volta, Morrissey, Men I Trust, Walk Off The earth, Squid, Explosions In The Sky and many more. The one I’m most excited about though is the long-awaited return on Siouxsie Sioux. She’s coming here for two nights in Sept. It will be her first London show in 10 years. We're very lucky and excited to be hosting!”