Best Live Show 2008: Radiohead

I am very biased toward Radiohead. This is a fact that people will have to accept in reading this blog. After years of being a very lazy fan, I finally made the effort to go to a Radiohead show. I’ve already discussed the concert here, but the experience continues to reverberate within me. Thankfully, I’ve finally remembered to include some pictures as I go along in this post.

I had nothing but anticipation as the waiting changed from months and turned to weeks and days. The time was spent running through my Radiohead catalogue, checking setlists from other shows in the tour and analyzing the very nature of the band.

Clearly the hour before the band took stage was surreal. I realized that I would actually see Radiohead on a stage, breathing the same air as me. Grizzly Bear put forth a great effort in trying to entertain (and I do think they’re the next great band that will emerge as being truly spectacular in the next few years), but the true band was to come.

And boy did they show up. Each song resonated with brilliance unrivaled by even those laid down in original album form. The band seemed absolutely alive and in a sense of true joy. The lights were fantastic, the sound was flawless and the setlist was stunning. My only hope is that I can see the band again when they return to America. I now have these photos to help relive the experience. Please enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Concert Review: Radiohead 8/12/2008 in Camden

Note: There are a few more things to be added to this post. I have to get some pictures up, and a few links to videos. However, I wanted to get the writing published sooner than later. I’ve already put off this document for too long. Needless to say, everyone (even those that claim to hate the band) must see Radiohead in their lifetime. This is a requirement.

The journey was long (driving to get to a friend’s house in Philadelphia). The traffic was not fun as we ventured from his place to the show. The setting was frightening, to say the least (Camden, NJ is not at all a good place to be). We took a wrong turn after getting over the bridge, and ended up in a very unhealthy-looking portion of town. The car doors were locked, and we even had to phone for help with directions (a huge shout-out to my mother and sister on that one).

But the payoff was decidedly worth such insanity. After braving the journey, the reward was instant – perfect weather, a good time with two excellent friends, and a wonderful opening band. But that was only the beginning.

After the last notes of “While You Wait for the Others” finished ringing out, the stage crew began the insane transformation of the venue. Instead of a sparse scene with amplifiers and equipment boxes, giant LEDs emerged, various instruments appeared, and the still more people came out to check over the materials. The crowd slowly streamed in, until the whole place seemed ready to burst with people and energy. Admittedly, I didn’t even realize the extent of humanity there until later on – the lawn above the proper arena section must have held just as many attendees in half the space.

And then it happened. The seating lights went out, and the stage became illuminated. The world’s greatest band was about to set foot on the stage.

From the very first note, Radiohead owned the night. Starting strong with “15 Step,” Thom Yorke’s distinctive voice carried out with an inviting power. Even from this highly “techno” style of track, something became clear – Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood were absolutely dominant in their rhythm positions on drums and bass, respectively. Just as on In Rainbows, the real drums finally defeated their electronic counterpoint, and it was absolutely certain that we were in for a night to remember. The band then moved into an impressive rendition of “There There,” where the crowd was quickly pushed to singing and dancing. “Morning Bell” proved that Kid A could be performed live – a notion that had perplexed me for some time. Finally seeing such a feat confirmed both a great admiration for the band’s ideas and the each member’s technical skills. This was followed by a very moving version of “All I Need,” pulling off the sorrow and desire accentuated in the album track.

But then Radiohead moved to an entirely different level. With “The National Anthem,” it was clear that this was no normal band. Immediately, the fear was instilled by playing a heavily distorted clip of sound about the situation in Tibet – a very haunting way to start such a song. But here, the lights were the real winners. Insane, perhaps seizure-inducing effects ran throughout the whole song as Colin Greenwood pounded away at the infamous bass line. Violent, raucous sounds assaulted the ears, and every bit of it was brilliant. Wild fits of dancing were unavoidable, and the crowd reacted with absolute joy.

In a very gutsy move, the wild intensity of “The National Anthem” was followed by “Videotape.” In my mind, “Videotape” is clearly the weakest song on In Rainbows. Yet here, the power of live Radiohead breathed new vigor into the song. It was beautiful and sorrowful.

As the show progressed, impressive versions of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Where I End and You Begin” exhibited the mind-blowing guitar skills of Radiohead’s three six-string players. On “Faust Arp,” Yorke and Jonny Greenwood serenaded the crowd, blessing us with pristine excellence on two acoustic guitars.

After the break from such loud songs, Radiohead jumped right back into the action with a very well-received version of “No Surprises.” Particularly, the audience overflowed with joy as Yorke sang “Bring down the government.” Soon, the raw power of The Bends was brought forth through that album’s title track. Crashing guitars gave the song a strength not seen on the proper release.

And then another one of the showstopers came forth – “Idioteque.” A wild techno piece in its own right, I wasn’t sure how such a song would fare in a live performance. Thankfully, Radiohead considered how to convey excellence, as they cranked up the tempo. By being so fast, everything in “Idioteque” became even better, more urgent, and more powerful. White flashing lights brought a club feel to the song, and everyone around danced as if the world was ending (fitting, given the lyrical content). Cries of “Everything all of the time” were echoed by the crowd until Yorke hit the true meat of the song. “Ice age coming, ice age coming” summoned an even faster segment of the song, and the breakneck pace filled the ears with delight and questions. The questions primarily consisted of repeated asking, “Am I really here? This is too good to be true.” The visual confirmation served to only bring more joy. Yes, Radiohead are the real deal.

My friends and I locked arms, swayed in time, and sang to each other as “Nude” was played. I found a peculiar humor in our loud voices as the lyrics became, “You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking.” It was brilliant to watch the band work, and so worthwhile to be with others. It was with my friends that we shared a collective squeal as the final song of the first set began. “Bodysnatchers” was absolutely mental. Bright, flashing lights, bold, shrieking guitars, and a psychotic rhythm pushed us to jump about, screaming about blinking our eyes.

A few moments passed without Radiohead on the stage. But, knowing the nature of their shows, the band returned in a blaze of glory. In this first encore, the real highlights were the final two songs, both from The Bends. “Just” was loud, sarcastic, and hilarious. But, the real winner was “Street Spirit.” Even more intense than its album version, the song consistently took my breath away. Yorke’s spot-on vocals only furthered my goose bumps as he expelled his final demons, singing “Immerse your soul in love.” I melted and began to tear up at the tangible pain that the song still carried. The band walked away again, only this time I was literally begging for more.

Then, the second, and final, encore began with the freewheeling “Reckoner.” Fun percussion (shakers, tambourines and such) started the song and brought a very playful feel to the song as Yorke continued to use his perfect falsetto.

But the final two songs will forever stick in my mind. “Planet Telex” is a song that I always pictured as being more electronic-based and perhaps lighter than some of the other material on The Bends. Here, Radiohead exploded. Abrasive guitars and a great drum part brought the song to a new level. But the true excellence came, again, from the lighting. Midway through the song, all the lights became rainbows. The effect was simply unbelievable; Radiohead was still pulling out new stuff up until the very end of the show. I was in suspended animation. The night just couldn’t end like this.

Radiohead, the masters of album-closers, also managed to finish their show on a perfect note. On Kid A, “Everything in its Right Place” is an introduction to the fearless electronics that will follow over the course of ten songs. It sets a very strange tone, but was perfect as the band completely changed, claiming that (in this new version) everything was right with their world.

Live, “Everything” was the perfect finish. Haunting organs, pulsing drums and a throbbing bass set up an atmosphere that cannot be described. By following the whole course of the concert, it seemed that this last piece was the culmination of Radiohead’s whole body of work. Yorke was convincing – I felt as if everything was really right, and that this was the only way to leave. The lighting agreed – the giant LED sticks scrolled the message “EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE.” All was well with my world.

The lighting, the sound, the perfect interplay of each band member, the camaraderie, and the wonderful crowd created an atmosphere to remember. Even now as I close my eyes, I can see the lights freak out as “The National Anthem” begins. It is clear to me now that Radiohead is simply the greatest band on the face of the Earth. Their musicianship, their theatrical components and their innovative thinking add up to a whole that is simply unforgettable.

Until you next tour North America, Radiohead, I’ll have these memories to hold onto. Memories of the greatest rock band at the height of their powers.

Concert Review: Grizzly Bear 8/12/2008 in Camden

This is part one of a two part report on Radiohead’s magnificent appearance in Camden, New Jersey. Needless to say, Radiohead was great. But there will be more on that later. For now, it’s time to look at the best new band out there – Grizzly Bear.

It’s really unfair that Grizzly Bear had to open for Radiohead. While the tour represents a chance for the young band to be more widely exposed, they nearly become an afterthought. Conversation of concert-goers tends toward the hopes related to Radiohead’s setlist. Certainly I was guilty of this – would they played “Karma Police” and other highlights from OK Computer, or would the focus be on new material from In Rainbows?

Luckily, my attention was immediately pulled from the Radiohead speculation. Grizzly Bear did not hesitate, instantly becoming the point of excellence.

A four man group, Grizzly Bear is particularly noteworthy for their album Yellow House. On this release, the band mesmerizes with gorgeous atmospherics and stunning vocal harmonies. Haunting sounds both disturb and welcome the ears and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish particular singer. Yet this is a true strength of Grizzly Bear – they sound like a group, and they’re endlessly compelling.

Their live set works to enhance this feeling of group excellence. The group walked out together, with instruments placed close to the audience. While this was a practical choice (as to allow the Radiohead material to stay behind them, but still ready), the feeling was of crowd connection. A very sparse style of performance was to follow – no theatrics, no random dancing around, and no insane light show. However, the extraneous showmanship was unnecessary. Grizzly Bear owned my mind from the first note.

There were four songs that stood above the others (a large percentage of their short set). The newly debuted “Two Weeks” was even more amazing in person than on Letterman. Peppy keyboards drive everything as a strong bass line keeps a melody apparent. Ed Droste’s singing is powerful and emotional as he tells us, “Just like yesterday, I told you I would stay.” It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the background “Whoas” that appear throughout the song. The strong sounds, the clear singing, and the attitude exuded toward the crowd all added up to a real whole that must be experienced.

Another powerful memory is from “Little Brother.” Performed as the electric version seen in the Friend EP, “Little Brother” was absolutely epic. Here, Dan Rossen took vocal and guitar leads, creating a powerful sound. However, the real treat occurs in the second half of the song, where two sets of soaring guitars drive the action, as Droste also joins the noise. The combined might of tough bass, pounding drums, attacking Rossen guitar and beautiful Droste guitar creates a near-deafening blast that is insane, intense, and an absolute blast when live. Really, the only adjective applicable is “epic” – your ears will be simultaneously in pain and elated.

The third song that is easily brought to mind is “Knife.” Already a winner on Yellow House, Grizzly Bear makes “Knife” into an absolute showstopper live. Thanks to amazing supporting vocals by Chris Taylor (hitting notes that no human should reach), the piece is elevated to a point of brilliance. Enveloping guitars, careful drum patterns and (again) stunning vocals make this a song to remember.

While each of these songs is amazing, the true highlight came at the end of the Grizzly Bear set. Here, it was commented that the audience should “prepare to have your minds blown” in reference to Radiohead. Yet, the statement couldn’t have been more accurate to describe Grizzly Bear’s closer – “While You Wait for the Others.” A hallow, echoing guitar sound brings you into the song, with Rossen controlling the affair. But, the group effort shines through here. An amazing secondary guitar part from Droste pulls attention near the end as Ed also proceeds to hit sorrow-filled (and appropriate) notes vocally. Everything adds to a loud, crashing finale which dips away to near-silence at the very end. This fitting conclusion leaves a great taste and a grin across the face of all listening.

Originally, I read that the Radiohead show in Camden was billed as a headliner with Grizzly Bear as the opening act. Now that I’ve seen Grizzly Bear live, I feel that such an analysis is a bit inaccurate. As far as I’m concerned, I came to see a double-headliner. Grizzly Bear was fantastic live, and I can’t wait to hear from them again – their new album may be out by the end of the year.