Thursday, August 21, 2008
Remember waaaaay back in 1996? It was a shitty year for music. Dave Matthews just broke, and so did Blues Traveler. Hootie and the Blowfish were still selling like McDonalds, but now instead of only appealing to the suckers that just swallow corporate turds whole without any question or independent thought they started appealing to the parents of those people. The raver/trippers that were the mainstream populace two years prior had mostly gotten washed away by the wave of corporate crap that was 1995. When the wave rolled back they had all been replaced by this sort of Santa Barbara Jock Asshole archetype. They’re still around kind of. I’ll describe exactly what they look like: Fit and muscular, but not bulky. Khaki everything. Khaki baseball hat with a rounded bill. Khaki tee shirt with a shitty brand name such as Billabong, No Fear, or Mossimo. Khaki cargo shorts. Khaki sandals. Hemp Necklace. Very short hair. They looked stupid and they were. They listened to shitty music. They watched the “Real World”. They were sexist and misogynistic. They all had parents with money; not necessarily rich, but they’ve probably never seen truly hard times. Remember?
The Bends came out April 4, 1995. I wasn’t paying attention. My life was in a state of major flux and I was still hanging on to Smashing Pumpkins hoping that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness wasn’t as bad as I knew deep down that it was. The only thing I remembered from Radiohead was “Creep”. It was a good song when it came out, but Pablo Honey was a shitty album and I, along with all of my peers, had written Radiohead off as a one-hit-wonder. By the end of summer 1996 I had settled into my life in Ventura. I lived with my parents and we had cable for the first time in my life. We had DirecTV, which was new at the time, and for some reason we didn’t get MTV. We got the Canadian equivalent which was Much Music. I watched it regularly even though it sucked. All the singles off the Bends got regular airplay on Much Music in August 1996. I remember liking everything I heard, but not being sure of myself. At the time the Bends had a sound and a feel that was very similar to a lot of other lesser bands at the time. It had a very Khaki feel.
Then, in 1997 OK Computer came out and the world, in unison, shouted “Holy shit, this is the best band in the world!” The whole world was right. OK Computer was easily the best album made in the 1990s and is still a solid contender for best album ever made by anybody. Go ahead and give it another listen from start to finish if you don’t believe me. Then put on your favorite Modest Mouse album. You’ll understand immediately exactly why Isaac Brock is a poser and his band sucks.
But I digress…
Radiohead became the biggest band in the world and that carries a lot of weight and baggage. That sort of world-wide adoration is a tremendous turn-off for a lot of people, especially the sort of “indie hipster” that was emerging then and is on life-support now. There can’t be love without hate and you can’t have fame on that level without invoking jealousy and antagonism on a large scale. It is the price that Radiohead paid. They tried to explain it through their video “Meeting People Is Easy”, which chronicles the OK Computer tour and attempts to show things “through the band’s eyes”. It is an interesting concept as an art piece, but it is extaordinarily difficult to watch. It’s redundant and boring and Radiohead comes across as ungrateful, moody, stuck up pricks. The overall sentiment that the film leaves you with is “Oh, poor Radiohead. It must be so hard being soooooo famous.”
It took them three years to follow it up. They did it with Kid A in 2000. Kid A took Radiohead in an entirely new direction and had a dark and foreboding feel that ushered in the 21st century with almost chilling accuracy. Radiohead was no longer a traditional rock band, but a full-on electronic psychedelic outfit that mirrored the dark side of society in a frightfully accurate way. People started calling them “our generation’s Pink Floyd” and they were right to do so. Not since Pink Floyd has a band captured the essence of “bigger than life” in the way that Radiohead has.
Radiohead spent the next few years at the top of their game, but by the time Hail to the Thief came out in June 2003 people were getting bored. “Yup, sounds like Radiohead.” “Still on the paranoid trip, eh?” “Cheer up, Thom Yorke. Have an ice cream cone.”
Now, in 2008, their impact is completely different. They’ve graciously stepped down from the “biggest band in the world” pedestal onto a plane that is reserved for veteran professionals that have both the privilege and responsibility of forging history. The people that know know, and there’s plenty of us left. There’s no need for them to chase any more fame, they only need to not fall off. And after seeing the show I saw last night, that is something I’m sure they will never do.
The show opened with the Liars. They played their set that no one cared about all the while attempting, and failing, to warm the crowd up.
On a side note I should probably mention how difficult it must be to open for Radiohead. Yeah, it’s probably cool to play in front of that many people, but NO ONE CARES. No one. I saw the Beta Band open for Radiohead on the Amnesiac tour. They had a (relatively) small crowd of 100 people gathered in front of them while they did their set. Everyone else was filtering in, meandering around and waiting for Radiohead. I’d surely take the gig, but I’d prepare myself psychologically first.
After the Liars finished there was about an hour of waiting. It had been a long time since I’d seen a “big” concert and consequently I was fooled by the first roadie alarm. I spent the next 40 minutes talking to my friends and periodically glancing at the stage knowing that it would probably be a while before they came on, but that it could be any second. I wished I had gone to the bathroom during the Liars’ set.
After about an hour of waiting our attention was pulled away from the stage by a helicopter that was flying past the rear of the amphitheater. While the entire crowd’s backs were turned the show started.
It just got better from there. In the true spirit of Pink Floyd the show did not focus on Radiohead, but on the display above and around them. Your attention was drawn away from the band to the screens that displayed images of the band sometimes clear, but mostly obscured by visual effects. It was a surreal way to see anything. Most of the time I was captivated by the ever-changing display, but every now and then I would remember that the actual band was right below the screens. I would attempt to watch them, but we were too far away to see anything. Besides that they generally had the stage lights down so that the crowd would focus on the light show.
The show was great, possibly the best I’ve ever seen, but the music is what really made it. Never in my life have I heard live music sound so pristine, clear, and well mixed. It is to be expected by a band of Radiohead’s caliber, but it is still impressive. No doubt Radiohead themselves were great, but the team that brought that from an idea into reality deserves every bit of credit. I surely hope that some of the soundpeople that work in Washington clubs were there taking notes.
The show was an onslaught of perfection. Even halfway through the set when Thom fucked up a newer song it was still pulled off. In fact it was even a good moment. It narrowed the gap between band and audience, and demystified the band a bit. Thom fucked up twice, in the same spot, and came back with a humble smile to pull it off the third time through.
The show went on and never got boring, tired, or redundant. It started raining toward the end of the pre-encore set, but even that didn’t drive anyone away. The show was finally closed with “You and Whose Army?” which Thom dedicated to the people that were in Seattle when the WTO got shut down. That might seem cheesy to some, but if you have even a basic understanding of what Radiohead is really about then you know that they meant every word of it and that they were generally proud of those that stood up to the, in Thom’s words, “corrupt and malignant organization that (the WTO) was, and still is.”
I left the show wondering if there will ever be another band that is as good as Radiohead. Of course there will be, but they’ve got a lot of fucking work to do.