I never been a fan of written reviews of live concerts. Even back in the days when I was a heavy music listener and a follower of music criticism, I don’t recall purposefully reading about live events. For me the idea of objectively recapping that kind of experience seemed silly. Because it’s such a personal experience that is really hard to put into words. And if it’s done absolutely objectively there’s not that much to write. All you need is to go through the setlist. Meaning something utterly boring to read.
It’s not that I don’t think it’s impossible to write a great non-boring review. I eventually do end up reading some review of a live concert for the same reason I might end up reading a movie review. If it’s a movie I really enjoyed, I always check out what Roger Ebert wrote about it. But this is only interesting to people that make it their business to be interested in the cultural implications about art and stuff.
With that said, I think the Radiohead concert deserves that I put some words on record. First of all, this would be the first “major” event I’ve ever been to in years. Major as in arena sized major. I’ve been to many rock concerts, but nothing at this scale. Second, I’m shamefully, and painfully, a Radiohead fanboy. I have followed their music for about 15 years. Followed is not even the correct word here. I have deeply studied their music. Literally speaking and metaphorically. As a guitar player and ex garage band member, their music was a big influence. I have carefully studied Thom Yorke’s singing style and I think I can nicely approximate him in the lower to mid ranges. But for the life of me, I have never been able to solo like Johnny Greenwood. I bought a Telecaster knockoff and have been able to get that garage-y distortion sound, but I don’t think anyone can sputter-riff like that man.
So seeing them in the flesh was kind of a huge deal for me. And I don’t believe in being celebrity star struck, because I don’t care for “celebrities”, but now I know how that feeling feels. It’s like seeing a super hero. In this case a group of super heroes. You just can’t believe that they’re there. Even when you feel it. (See what I did there?) And I wasn’t even that close. The Tampa Bay Times Forum is huge. But I bought the tickets the first day they became aviaIable for purchase through Tickemaster back in November. The seats were on Row R, seats 9 and 10. My wife and I were facing left to the stage. We had an amazing view.
The show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but even in big leagues shows like these, they never start at the time set. Around 8:00pm, for a minute I was fooled by the band opener, Other Lives, because they started pounding the same types of drums Radiohead uses in the song There There. They had a big atmospheric bombastic sound, with strings, and the singer was singing in some other language. Or maybe it was just his phrasing, but I couldn’t understand any of the lyrics. But they sounded really good. They used Spanish acoustic guitars and the singer had long hair and beard. Think Devandra Banhart but more clean cut.
When Radiohead finally walked to the stage, my heart started pounding. The second guitarist, Ed O’Brien is looking more fashionable than ever. Thom Yorke was looking very Williamsburg hipster. He was wearing a vest, sporting a pony tail, had skinny jeans, and wore high top converse-like sneakers. They opened with Bloom. I’ll tell you straight up, I’m not the biggest fan of The King of Limbs, but they kind of have convinced me since hearing and seeing them perform the songs. Here’s the setlist for the show.
The staging was amazing. Before they started playing, a bunch of crew men were climbing up to the roof of stage in those flimsy string ladders you see people climbing in Circuses. When the show was about to start you saw a bunch of rectangular screens being dropped from the top of the stage. Throughout the show, the screens angle were changed and you saw the different members of the band projected in those rectangular screens. It caused this weird effect of a shattered intimacy with the band. And that’s a very appropriate description of Radiohead’s themes. They make you feel like you’re there with them, but then remind you that “They’re not here, this isn’t happening?” But it was happening.
I loved how they played Mr Magpie, which they made into raucous romp. You could feel the floor vibrating. I knew that they were going to play most of their recent stuff, but I was impressed when they jammed through Meeting at the Aisle, a B-side from one of the most incredible Ep’s a band has released.
It’s hard to make the case for Thom Yorke as a rock star, but he definitely is one, in his own way. He’s not the kind to say “Hello Tampa, or hello whatever city”, he just did weird sounds and made funny remarks. He’s dancing a lot though, which I enjoy. And not just like a schizophrenic, like he does when he performs Idioteque, but he’s grooving a lot. And he was kind of “emceeing” like only an anglo-saxon man can while performing Myxomatosis. I didn’t like that song too much. Now I love it.
I had a piercing headache throughout the show. It was a combination of only having one meal and walking around the sun. We got there ridiculously early, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin an event of a lifetime. I had really intense feelings through out the whole show. If it weren’t for all the thousands of people around, I would have burst into tears. After the second encore, when I heard that first piano chord when they started Karma Police, my heart wanted to leap out of my chest. It felt like I was completing a circle. I have never written an elaborate bucket list, but I remember making a list of things I wanted to do before I died, and seeing Radiohead live was one of them.
It was a glorious day.