Watch: Flaming Lips share full Hi, How Are You? Day concert video
The Flaming Lips conjured much of their signature art rock wonder in their headlining set at the Hi How Are You? Day concert on Tuesday at ACL Live. To the tune of “Vaseline,” giant balloons bounced through the crowd, bursting into magical poofs of brightly colored paper. Lead singer Wayne Coyne recounted the epic tale of warrior Yoshimi while a gigantic pink robot danced behind him. An occasionally wonky inflatable rainbow inspired Coyne to share hard won road wisdom in the form of a useful platitude: “The rainbow may not come exactly when you think it should.”
But after the confetti scraps settled, Coyne and crew brought the show back home to its mission: to honor lo-fi legend, Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston on his birthday and the raise awareness about mental health. Inspired by a crowd suggestion, the band led the audience in a singalong of Happy Birthday, before segueing into a haunting rendition of “True Love Will Find You in the End.”
Then he invited the other musicians who performed earlier in the evening to join the band on stage for a heartfelt version of the Beatles' “All You Need Is Love,” which he said was one of Johnston’s favorite songs.
It was a fitting end to a sprawling four and a half hour concert that also included performances from ‘90s indie rock faves Yo La Tengo, Bob Mould and Built to Spill alongside pop artist Gavin DeGraw and L.A. rock outfit, the Moth and the Flame. Austin’s psych kingpins the Black Angels, queen of soul, Tameca Jones and local legend, Bob Schneider also performed.
The Lips posted the full video of the event live stream (which is spliced with archive clips of Johnston) to their YouTube page and you can watch it here:
At last year’s inaugural concert at the Mohawk, the musicians played exclusively Johnston’s songs. This year, most artists played at least one song by Johnston -- Yo La Tengo did a wistful take on “Speeding Motorcycle,” Schneider wrung pathos from “King Kong Paroles,” and the Lips opened their set with a soaring spin on “Go” -- but the bulk of each artist's 20-minute set was made up of originals.
Johnston, who played his last tour in 2017, did not make an appearance, but some of the artists shared anecdotes about him. When he first moved to Austin in the late ‘80s, Schneider said, seeing Johnston’s cassette tapes at Sound Exchange helped inspire him to put his own music out. One of the evening’s emcees, Andy Langer, shared a story about a time Yo La Tengo played a duet with Johnston over the phone live on air from radio station WFMU in New Jersey.
Johnston's art was prominently displayed throughout the venue. An animation of one of his characters spewing whimsical squiggles and objects from his head was projected above the outside doors and screens throughout the venue played animated shorts that wove Johnston’s imagery with information about mental health and suicide prevention.
The show, and the project it supports, take their names from Johnston’s iconic frog mural, painted on the drag. Popularly known as Jeremiah the Innocent (though we learned at the show, Johnston just refers to it as “the friendly frog”), the character poses a simple question, “Hi, how are you?” Project organizers, Courtney Blanton and Tom Gimbel, urged everyone in the audience to use the simple phrase to check on family, friends and co-workers. It’s a reminder that you never know who might be hurting and it’s important to reach out. As they grow the project, they hope to use it as a community-building mantra. Representatives from the city and the state both made proclamations recognizing their work at the event.
In the moment, Bob Mould reminded us that the arts have enormous power to heal. “Music is good for all of us together as people,” he said.