Monday, March 19, 2012

A Random Day: Radiohead Live at the Sprint Center

When you see your “favorite band” live, it is an event humming with anticipation from you and annoyance from your friends and loved ones. Your heart is beating irregular palpitations. You talk about the impending show here and there, randomly inserting the event into casual conversation that has nothing to do with said favorite band. “Let’s go get some food.” “Sure. Let’s get some Taco Bell. Maybe we can get Taco Bell on the way to the [insert your favorite band] show, too, later this month!” You play the hell out of their songs loudly, in marathon fashion.

This was how Radiohead was supposed to play out for me. They are my favorite band, who wrote my favorite song of all time (“Paranoid Android”) and my favorite albums of the last two decades (OK Computer from the 90s, In Rainbows / Kid A from the 00s, though which is depending on the day). This band is a force and they are the band that introduced me to the power of the internet and blogosphere culture thanks to how In Rainbows exploded and how intrigued I was at the way it marketed itself.

When the Kansas City Radiohead show was announced in November, my life was on an upswing. I was pumped. I got married that August and I was finishing up my degree, ready to enter the adult world and live a happy life. I was the happiest I had ever been then. The Radiohead show felt like the ultimate cherry on top, a time to let loose and enjoy my favorite songs with tens-of-thousands of other people. My wife was going, as was one of my roommates. It was going to be a communal experience.

The time between November 2011 and March 2012 wasn’t as peachy, though. It wasn’t particularly traumatic, but reality was settling in. I had a degree and had finished the most rewarding semester of my entire educational life, but I did not have a job. I still don’t have a job. I’m afraid of the future. I don’t know where I will live when my lease comes up since my friends are also graduating. My wife doesn’t have a career yet either. I thought I’d be able to get my career started without a hitch, naively I’ll admit. Given the economy, even my field—education—is experiencing hiring freezes. My future is uncertain, and that bothers me to no end, to the point where I obsess about how uncertain my future is which leads to me being unable to focus and do the things I love, such as writing and reading and listening to new music.

I was less excited than I thought I would be when March 11th rolled around. I was excited, certainly, but not as much as I should have been. I should have been annoying everyone around me. I was actually surprised when the show was approaching, thinking to myself that it was still a long ways away. Then the date came around, and our little caravan set out to downtown Kansas City. I was muted, thinking about other things, thinking about life and what exactly I was supposed to be doing, being a responsible adult and all, and not about the mind-blowing experience I was going to have in a few hours.


Outside of the arena, hateful protestors of the worst sort, from the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, stood with signs denouncing the fag-lovers Radiohead and the fans of the fag-lovers. In a press release, interwoven with some nonsensical scripture jibber-jabber was an accusation that this band was “a bunch of freak monkey’s with mediocre tunes.” Yes, even with the improperly used apostrophe. These crack pots are around here and there, at different shows, sporting events, political rallies, and even sermons, since no brand of religion is as good as their hateful spew.

I looked on with cynicism. How could any group of people believe such a hateful dogma. They pissed me off; their existence pissed me off. I wish I was cool enough with other opinions to laugh off their beliefs and hate in some sort of ironic joke. I’m good at spur-of-the-moment jokes, but I couldn’t muster one. I just thought about how these creeps sit in a congregation and spout hate about gays and US soldiers and anyone who wasn’t just like them.

. . .A cult of contrived limitations on oneself and a belief that others need to do the same or be damned. . .

Forget that trite, man.

I entered the Sprint Center in worst spirits than when I had entered.


The show itself:

The lights went down, the speakers hummed, the crowd cheered. I cheered with them. The drum machine-bubbles of “Bloom” began. The dual screen backdrop blazed brightly, featuring smaller screens that added to the personal effect of the band’s performance. They want you to see, no matter how far away you feel in the upper balcony of the Sprint Center (as I was). The band, five-members-plus-Portishead-drummer Clive Deamer on a second drum set, built up a tapestry of sound with a backdrop of lights. The musicians built on their textures to recreate The King of Limbs highlight for their live show, and it is most definitely a great version of the song.

“Morning Mr. Magpie” was extended and sped up, to create a superior version to its album counterpart. The stage was bathed in red, and Thom York sang/spat with an intensity that is missing from The King of Limbs. The syncopation of the instruments created a meditative setlist.  Other songs were noticeable sped up, such as “Lotus Flower” and “Feral,” the latter of which featured a thick, electronic bass line that shook the upper levels of the Spring Center. “Separator” was also about album-quality. Thom’s vocals were impassioned as he sang “If you think this is over then you are wrong” which was appropriate beginning the first encore.

Radiohead also reached into songs newer than those on their latest album. “Supercollider” made its first appearance of the tour. Thom pumped his fingers onto his synthesizer and sang with his usual ethereal vocals, providing a rousing version of this song. “The Daily Mail” was dedicated to Rupert Murdoch, which brought about a chorus of boos. Thom laughed and said, “I see he’s become popular in his old age.” And then the song: as great live as it is in mp3 form, thick and loud after a quiet piano-led prelude. The other new song was “Identikit” and it was introduced with Thom talking about how random the day was. He mentioned the dog outside his hotel keeping him up, as well as obviously alluding to the Westboro congregation outside of the venue. In keeping with the randomness, he decided to play a song that has no recorded version yet. They had been playing “Identikit” throughout the tour, but Thom must have had prior knowledge of some of the randomness that was about to ensue.

“Identikit” began with Thom and Ed O’Brien harmonizing with the drummer’s bets, and Clive Deamer messed up. Thom looked at him and yelled, “Sheeeeit” into his mic. Everyone applauded Clive, who stood for a bow. Thom admitted that they were “professionals” and all was in good fun. As they restarted the song, one Thom admits he loves, they played flawlessly into the song’s bridge/halfway-point and the houselights came up for no reason. It was random indeed, with Thom returning to play the synth part the song required with a “What the fuck.”  Through the distractions, the song is great and I’m excited for a recorded version.

Radiohead played a surprising amount of songs off of In Rainbows, all featuring Thom’s more seductive vocal performances. Also: “Pyramid Song” was enthralling and emotional, “There There” was desolate and pounding in its percussion and proved why it is one of my favorite songs by them, “Myxomatosis” was a last minute add (replacing the superior “Street Spirit [Fade Out]” from the setlist) and I was glad they added it—it added a punch to the show and kept it lively.

The highlights of the night were the ballads, though. Supposedly, Thom’s voice has become worse and worse over the years live, and I’ve seen video proof of Thom lazily singing “Paranoid Android,” but tonight his voice was spot on, and thanks to its precision, the performance was immersive. On OK Computer great “Lucky” he hit the notes perfectly with the sort of emotion you get from playing the record loudly—but even more because of the communion shared with the tens-of-thousands in the audience. “Lucky,” a sermon on survival and happenstance, felt appropriate. “Everything In Its Right Place” felt appropriate and all-encompassing and profound. “Idioteque” felt prophetic and appropriate (“Iceage coming, Iceage coming”). The highlight of it all was “How To Disappear Completely” which snapped me into focus. More so than any other song that evening, I felt onstage, floating above everyone, floating with everyone. It was not a clichéd moment where Thom Yorke was singing to me, but it was a moment of connection with how I was feeling. My mental funk was something I wanted to conquer alone, but I know now that it takes moments in the physical world to define us. Things have to happen for us to be happy, whether we want it or not. Knowing that I wasn’t the only person who ever wanted to go away and act in denial of our lives. “I’m not here. This isn’t happening.” Indeed.

The night ended with two completely different songs to complete the second encore. First, Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood came on stage to play the soft and choral “Give Up The Ghost.” Thom Yorke looped his own vocals to create a choir with his own pained voice in a song about death. Watching Thom and Johnny work together to create a wonderfully apt song, another highlight from The King of Limbs, was lovely. Then the ever-goofy, but deadly serious “Paranoid Android” ended the evening. Every Radiohead fan knows the acoustic guitar chords that begin the song, and they know the spastic break down and that intense riff. But the part of the song that was the most “appropriate” was the middle section—the hymnal section—where we all acted like freak monkeys worshiping mediocre tunes, sang along. There were thousands of belief systems filling the crowd, from young libertarians to socialists to people who vote for Ralph Nader to atheists to fairly-stringent Catholics to people who hate fish to people who love fish to those who have bad taste in movies to film critics to this guy who writes over-thought-and-too-long blog posts. For those two hours, though, we were all partaking in a different communion, though, as a mass of like-people, united in our own congregation that night.

I certainly left the Radiohead concert satisfied and optimistic and less alone.

 Bloom 15 Step, Morning Mr. Magpie Weird Fishes/Arpeggi  
 All I Need Pyramid Song The Daily Mail Supercollider Nude Identikit Lotus Flower There There Feral How To Disappear Completely Reckoner Separator Myxomatosis Idioteque Lucky Everything In Its Right Place Give Up The Ghost Paranoid Android


  1. This is the best thing on this site. So well written TJ.

  2. I'm sad to tell you those kind of feelings will grow up... and unfortunately at one point, there will be no more Radiohead... Choose the right way man, and most of all, be sure you can change the road you're on. I'm an old lad (almost 47') trying to keep it all together but it's hard. I may be paranoid... but not android.

    Take care.