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.