My Life as a Radiohead Fan…

A short while back, I was offered the chance to shoot photos of Radiohead and review their Houston show at Toyota Center. Of course, I jumped at the chance, but then I thought, what would I really write about the show that wouldn’t be said better by Chris Gray of the Houston Press or Andrew Dansby at The Chronicle — much more interesting writers than yours truly?

That brought me to the thought that I could just tell you all the story of one man’s fascination and love for one of the best live bands to ever grace a stage.

The first time I heard Radiohead was, of course, with their one-hit-wonder-rific “Creep”. The simplest of simple songs, it seemed to never leave the radio dial that year. But the bands I cared about in college most were Smashing Pumpkins, The Posies, and Morrissey, so the song hardly made a dent in my psyche, and besides, songs like that are never followed up with anything good. Right?

Fast-forward to 1996, when I was trying to garner the interest of my then-girlfriend (and now wife), Vanessa. She wanted to go see Radiohead at The Fillmore in San Francisco. I had dragged her to several shows, so I thought it would be interesting to see what she liked for once.

We got there early to get a spot in front, near “The Cute One.” My wife has awesome taste in music, but seemingly it’s always accompanied by some kind of “cute one” (Nick Rhodes, Johnny Marr, Jim Reid, Jonny Greenwood…). One song in, and I was sold. The band was beyond amazing live. Their album could not capture what they were in person. But I started from that day to devour their two albums and whatever B-sides I could find. I quickly found favorites in “You,” “Just,” “Pop Is Dead,” and (still for me) the ultimate Radiohead song, “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” with its young musician’s motto, “I wanna be in a band when I get to heaven.”

A year later, OK Computer was released. It took me a little while to get used to the album, but the song “Airbag” changed the way I thought about my instrument, the electric bass. The bassline left so many spaces; it was so off-putting, and therefore, brilliant. “Paranoid Android” changed the way I (and many people) thought about what a single could be. “Let Down” became my favorite new song, with its seemingly random arpeggios at the end.

Again, the chance came to see them live. This time I was offered the chance to be an usher for Bill Graham Presents and then see the rest of the show after I was done with my duties. And again, Radiohead redefined what it meant to be a great live band, with its spellbinding rendition of “Exit Music (For a Film)”

A few years passed, and I found myself happily married and in Houston. I joined a band called Strangelight that was clearly influenced by Radiohead, though we definitely grew tired of hearing that we were. In 2001, Strangelight went together to see Radiohead at The Woodlands Pavillion. Again, faced with a challenging album, I was a little down on Radiohead and at this point hoping and expecting the band to change my mind with their live set. And from the opening bassline of “The National Anthem,” they did exactly that. But The Pavillion was an abysmal place to see Radiohead. After all, I had seen them from the front row in 1996. Watching them like THE TOURIST from the lawn was a complete LET DOWN — joke intended. I vowed not to see them again at The Woodlands.

The next time Radiohead came to town, in support of Hail To The Thief, it was again at the Pavillion, but Strangelight had its own gig at the now-defunct Proletariat. We relished the rebellious statement of playing the same night as them. Of course, it was kind of a light night for us, crowd-wise, but I remember a couple of friends stopping by on their way home from the Woodlands show.

Soon after this, I jumped at the chance to see Radiohead headline Coachella. One of my other favorite bands, Muse, was finally playing in the USA again, after several years of their albums being only available on import. Muse and Radiohead, at the same place, on the same weekend? Yeah, I’ll splurge for that! But what about the fact that they’d be playing so far away from me, in a festival setting? I told myself I’d just have to live with the band at a distance.

At the festival, as band after band went by on the main stage, I inched myself a little closer until Radiohead came out. I had a pretty good vantage point. And that night, Radiohead was the best band in the world. At this show they had the best of the new songs like “2+2=5,” “Myxomatosis,” and “The Gloaming,” along with ’90s favorites like “My Iron Lung,” “No Surprises,” “Paranoid Android,” and “Planet Telex”. I realized that night I probably wouldn’t get to see Radiohead again, because they were indeed superstars, and I was not a superstar-band kind of guy.

Which brings us to 2012. Radiohead’s rare trips to Houston before now have all been to The Woodlands, so I haven’t bothered to buy tickets. The Toyota Center show is announced, though, and I plan to get tickets, but I’m in the car on the way to record with my band, Alkari, in Austin and forget to get them before they are sold out.

Then I see a friend who has a connection with Toyota Center. He offers to put me on a list of interested photographers for Space City Rock, but he tells me not to expect to get to do it, and if I do get to, I won’t even find out until the day before. Sure enough, the email comes, and I’m invited to photograph, but won’t get to stay.

I arrive at Toyota Center. All the other photographers have better cameras and lenses than I do, but I don’t care. I’m going to be shooting photos of a band that has been a part of the soundtrack of my life for the past 16 years! It was a nerve-wracking experience, that’s for sure. I can’t say I’ll never forget it, because I hardly remember it at all.

If you don’t know this, the photographers only get three songs to do their work — it’s not like at local shows, where I shoot as much as I want until I get the shots. So what I remember about shooting Radiohead is when one song was over, and then the next, and then the third. I tried to absorb the moments, and at the same time get some good photos. I crossed my fingers that I had gotten some good shots, though I doubted it, with hands as shaky as mome were. Certainly, many of the shots were out of focus, but I got enough to make myself proud, and hopefully enough to add to the resume to get me more photography gigs in the future. Hope you enjoy them!

(All photos by Jason Smith.)

Live review by . Live review posted Monday, March 12th, 2012. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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2 Responses to “My Life as a Radiohead Fan…”

  1. DAC on March 13th, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    This is great, and so are the photos. Thanks.

  2. Justice Tirapelli-Jamail on March 16th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Fantastic article and gorgeous pictures. Both, of course, as always.

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