The energy of anticipation was gathering around San Jose’s HP Pavilion. Radiohead fans from all over Northern California were amassing to see one of the biggest bands of our time. I could feel waves of excitement emanating everywhere as I pulled into the parking lot and began exploring the circumference of the auditorium in search of Will Call.
In preparation for the event, I had purchased a one hour massage the night before so my body would be fresh and ready to dance. It was a good call too, because on this tour, Radiohead enlisted the help of studio drummer Clive Deamer to flesh out the more rhythmic numbers and I had never been more inspired to let my body move.
Being on a bit of a budget crunch, I could not afford to invite anybody with me on this outing. But I found quickly that I was only a lone ranger on the drive down. Radiohead fans are a friendly and welcoming bunch. Kind of surprising if you listen closely to the lyrics, but apparently the depressing mood of some of their songs is more inclined to bring out a smile than a frown.
I was very impressed with the opening band. Other Lives is a 5 piece folk band from Stillwater, Oklahoma. What amazed me the most was the ethereal vocal harmonies performed by lead singer Jesse Tabish and Jenny Hsu, as well as the full time string section. It was a perfect opening band for Radiohead and even conjured up similar emotions and moods.
Once Radiohead took the stage, an elaborate light show illuminated the auditorium with vibrant hues. Ten high definition square screens descended from the top of the stage, each displaying a shuffle of close camera angles of Radiohead’s live performance. I stood dead center on the floor, about 30 feet back from the stage. The crowd weaved and bobbed to the stunning rhythms of dueling drummers as the band opened their set with the first track off of their new LP, “Bloom” from The King Of Limbs.
We were treated to two hours of spectacular sound. The setlist was fairly well balanced between Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows, and TKOL. With a few B Sides thrown in for good measure. Mostly music that was written and released in the new millenium. They did a killer rendition of “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy”, which has a few lines that hauntingly foreshadow the current banking collapse.
I have seen Radiohead now for the 8th time (9th, if you count when I met them) and I realized I had always neglected Ed O’Brien, favoring instead to stand near Jonny Greenwood’s side of the stage. This time, I had the perfect view of Ed and spent a lot of time watching his performance. I was surprised to hear that many sounds I thought were generated by keyboards on their recordings are actually Ed playing heavily processed guitar. He played a collection of guitars that reminded me a lot of my roommate Bill’s arsenal of custom made axes. They both have some pretty funky sounding guitars and I wished Bill could have been there to see it.
Thom Yorke seemed chipper, sporting a ponytail and hot pants. He seemed a little bewildered, constantly interrogating the crowd, “Where am I? Where am I?” Ed kept trying to tell him that they were in San Jose, but Thom didn’t seem to hear him.
I was shocked at the outset, counting six heads on stage. There were now two bald drummers in the band on opposite facing risers. What, did Phil Selway have a clone? When I got home, a quick Interweb Search revealed that it was part time Portishead drummer, Clive Deamer. Phil and Clive must have practiced together a lot because they were very tight when they played in unison. Some of their older material benefited from the addition, with a little more flare here and there as the two would break apart for fills and return in unison to the basic beat.
My personal favorite song of the evening was “Kid A”. It is so cool to see how they do it live. Thom sang through a vocoder and danced like an Egyptian cobra between the prose. It was obvious that he was having a lot of fun. The live version sounds a lot like the recorded version and now I’m inspired to play with my friend Mario’s vocoder again. It is not as easy as it looks to sing through the mic and play the melody with the keys, and with that knowledge in mind I could appreciate the finesse of Thom’s performance much more.
There weren’t a lot of songs pulled from the back back catalog, but the old standards they did perform were just as fresh and amazing as the first time I heard them. “Climbing Up The Walls”, with Jonny creepily running an AM radio through digital delay and other effects, combined with the haunting sound of Thom screaming through distorted acoustic guitar pickups, this song never ceases to amaze me.
“Idioteque”, with its pulsating electronic beat, created by Jonny Greenwood using patch cables on an old electronic instrument, Thom gyrating around the stage singing in a panic, “Ice age coming, ice age coming, we’re not scaremongering, this is really happening…”, and the stage bursting with green lights and digital video effects eliciting the sensation of being caught in the Matrix. “Ideoteque” is hands down one of my favorite songs to see Radiohead play live.
They ended their primary set with Kid A opener “Everything In Its Right Place”. This song serves the perfect grand finale as the composition relies heavily on the use of samplers, and the band members exit the stage one by one once their samples have been fully recorded. Thom Yorke is the first to leave while Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood continue to perform the song using loops of Thom’s vocals and keyboards. Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway, and Clive Deamer depart, eventually leaving Jonny and Ed alone, evolving and manipulating their samples and loops. This time, Jonny left Ed alone as he remained on stage for several minutes, subtly adjusting EQ nobs and stutter stepping loops to create washes of sounds and moving beats. He soon left the stage and left the sold out crowd in awe, and hungry for more.
As the lights of the auditorium slowly warmed back up, I stood motionless as the crowd began to disperse around me. As others were walking toward the exits, I walked in reverse flow toward the stage. At the end of the show, all of the stage lights were awash in a rainbow of color, illuminating all the different colors they had used throughout the night at once. Radiohead’s stage crew quickly began tearing apart the stage as I watched. I felt humbled by the experience. I meditated in the crowded room, lost in the moment. My favorite band of all time and I in the same room, the sound waves still lingering on in my mind.
If you ever listen to a Radiohead album, be sure to use a good pair of headphones. They are masters in the studio, carefully crafting every subtle detail. Whenever I acquire a new Radiohead record, it is always difficult for me to imagine how they came up with it, let alone how they could possibly pull it off live. When you witness the live performance and see how tangible all of the elements of the songs are, and how close to the recording it all sounds, you realize that you are in the presence of true masters. This is a band that jams together and composes as a group. Their records are organic and human. There is no other band like Radiohead on this earth, and I am proud to have been a part of their musical journey now for 12 years. Grateful Dead fans who travel from show to show are called Dead Heads. Well, I guess I must be a Head Head. Congratulations on the excellent performance. I hope I can see you again real soon.
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Article written by Gerad “G-Rad” Stemke, http://g-rad.net