Sunday, August 10, 2008
Radiohead at All Points West Festival, 08/08/08
I endure a lot to see Radiohead. I wasn’t exactly excited to find out that my first chance in the past five years to see them was going to be at the All Points West Music Festival.
After three consecutive years of Austin City Limits, I discovered I had quickly outgrown the festival scene. This Friday was a refresher on why. Waiting an hour to get ferried to the site and into the park, getting rained on, then exposed to the baking sun, staking out a decent spot 4 hours in advance, having to stand in that spot (without being able to hit a bathroom) for another 3 hours, surrounded by douchebags, being pushed around by people trying to force their way into the front at the last minute, and then spending another 2 hours making my way back home, is all-in-all way too much to go through just to see a band.
But it’s Radiohead.
They are, to me, still the greatest band around today. Which they proved on Friday. It’s easy to get complacent and take for granted just how incredible they are. Ever since The Bends, it’s assumed that they will create mind-blowing music, and for the most part they haven’t disappointed. Although Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief each received subsequently less fanfare, I still contend that any other band would’ve sold their soul to have created any of those albums, which would’ve been met with a torrent of praise.
I’ve also read how Radiohead basically failed to live up to the projected mantle of “Savior of Rock and Roll”. Supposedly after OK Computer, they were predicted to be the next Nirvana and reclaim whatever it is that was perceived to be lost. Instead, they dabbled in electronica and ambience while shrinking out of the spotlight.
Though in my opinion, Radiohead never sought out to be the “Biggest Band in the World”. Instead, they’ve used their leverage to do exactly what they want to do on their terms. Everyone should be so lucky. I love how they haven’t been complacent about their sound and have continued to explore. Also, the fact that they’ve been a rare presence just means that they haven’t over-saturated our lives and when they do pop their heads up, it becomes a special moment.
As for the show itself, I had forgotten how solid the band are as performers. Thom’s vocals are impeccable as one would assume, but I’m always impressed by Colin on bass and Phil on drums. This band steers away from the typical just-keep-a-beat approach. I could’ve spent the entire time mesmerized by the complex, syncopated rhythms being performed. That is if I weren’t still so enamored with Jonny’s guitar playing. I completely relate to his thin, lanky frame and hunched over posture. I don’t think he looked up once, letting his hair veil his face the entire time. Yet he was far from stoic, constantly swaying convulsively to the beat and attacking his guitar with forceful strumming. Even when he was playing a contraption that looked like an old telephone operator’s station during a quiet, slow song, he was bobbing back and forth almost schizophrenically.
As a complete counter to Jonny was Ed on the other end of the stage. He stood still, was sleekly dressed and reacted with the audience. It was then that I noticed how different each band member seemed. In my head, I started to categorize where each of them would live if they were in New York. Jonny would no doubt be in Williamsburg, Ed would be an Upper East Sider, Colin in the Village, Phil in the Upper West Side and Thom... Well, I have no idea where Thom would fit in. I just imagine him being referred to by strangers as “that funny, little man”. That is if he weren’t the front man for Fucking Radiohead.
I cannot write about the show without mentioning the lighting on the stage. I thought that the Sigur Rós show had impressive effects but Radiohead upped the ante significantly. Whereas the lighting for Sigur Rós was a great compliment to the performance, Radiohead’s light and visual setup was a work of art. They literally played within an art installation, composed of long fluorescent tubes of light and video displays. The screens were a good way to see the band members up close but it was never dull or repetitive how they presented them. My descriptions won’t do it justice but the experience was breathtaking.
The band, as expected, played most of the numbers off of their latest release, In Rainbows, but I was surprised at how enthused the audience was to hear songs from the Kid A and Amnesiac era.
I also think that anyone who criticizes Radiohead of not being a rock band anymore should listen to There, There which is as much a hard rocking song that any they produced in their “guitar days”. I’m still mystified as to why Hail to the Thief was so panned as more straying from OK Computer guitars that everyone wanted. 2+2=5 and Go to Sleep are great songs that heavily feature guitars. Radiohead just can’t win.
The live performance of House of Cards was a reinforcement on the sheer beauty of that song, and what was interesting was to hear that number in contrast to the performance of Climbing Up the Walls. It was hard to believe that these two songs were by the same band. House of Cards casted such a mellow, dreamy aura while Climbing Up the Walls created horrific imagery. Looking back, it’s easy to see how they produced OK Computer as a harbinger of doom. While hypnotic and beautiful, the album was a tale of terror and despair. Which is all the more disturbing when I hear an entire festival audience singing along with Thom to Paranoid Android. It was a very surreal moment.
I have to admit a bit of hipster snobbery coming out within me when I see frat boys singing along to Radiohead. I just wanted to yell “Fuck off. I found Radiohead first.” Yes, quite elitist of me.
It’s a little scary to me how I can still predict the upcoming song by the instrumentation. Oh, Jonny and Ed are on drums? No doubt it’s There, There. Colin on keyboard? Idioteque. Ed is holding a shaker. It’s going to be Paranoid Android.
Nude was a pretty number that quieted the crowd with it’s serene beauty, but still nothing compares to the magnificent Street Spirit which closed out the first encore. I’m glad the band hasn’t neglected the song and still acknowledges it as a powerful experience.
At two and a half hours, Radiohead definitely put on a great show and actually made me consider that all the festival bullshit I had to put up with was worth it. Anyone, even mild fans, should do whatever they can to catch this rare, live performance.