Live: Radiohead

Radiohead pic #1

CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION -- 5/17/08: There is probably something snide to be said about seeing Radiohead (amidst all those fake plastic trees, amiright?) at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands, but I don't know what it is, so I won't even try.
I mean, out of the 21 U.S. cities on the In Rainbows tour, Radiohead chose ours, so I won't talk about the imitation Riverwalk (and what better to imitate than the Riverwalk?), or the British-style "pub" (now serving fish and chips!) next door to the venue, or the "hiking trails" complete with paved paths, pay phones, and WiFi, or even the absurdly Texan rule of turning out the lights at 11:00 so as to not upset the sleeping suburbanites. But all that stuff was secondary this night, and the entire crowd (or at least all the lawn sitters; from what I could tell, all the people who had actual seats down under the overhang were a bit blasé about the whole thing) seemed to know it.
I should start by saying that I first came to Radiohead with Pablo Honey, and I was just like everyone else -- I thought they'd be an MTV spring break phenomenon and nothing more. But when they released The Bends in 1995, I was hooked for good. The point is, I almost feel like a real fan, having followed their career very closely for the past fifteen years (though I took a brief pause from roughly 2004-2005 due to Hail to the Thief discontent). With all that said, though, I had seen Radiohead only once before tonight's show (at Bonnaroo in 2006), so right away I was at a disadvantage.
Why? Because there are some rabid Radiohead fans out there (if you want proof of this, spend some time at www.58hours.com to see what I'm talking about), some of whom have seen them live upwards of ten, twenty times. Many of these people know the ins and outs of what seems like every set list Thom Yorke has ever constructed, others know exactly what color pants Colin Greenwood was wearing during the first wardrobe change in June of 1995 at the Mercury Café in Denver. It's insane. And I knew this going in, so my game plan was simple -- keep my head low, concentrate on my notes, and speak to no one. So that's what I did.
And the show was all the better for it. There is a lot to take in at a Radiohead show, never mind the actual songs (which I will get to, I promise). The light show was extraordinary, far different than previous Radiohead tours -- there were no lasers this time, and six equal-sized screens lined side-to-side, as compared to the dozens of scattered smaller ones they've used previously -- but it seemed to be much more in tune with the rest of the show, choreographed almost perfectly with the songs Yorke sang and the extravagant electronic artwork executed by Greenwood. There were floor-to-ceiling-length tubes of something that at times looked like polka-dotted rain, at other times like hundreds of gigantic fireflies trying to escape, and still other times like a vertical neon ocean of blue, all set against Yorke's (on this night) flawless voice.
There has been a lot of talk on various blogs about the set list for this show, how we were short changed on songs like "The Bends," "Paranoid Android," and "Just." Or how "Videotape" sounded weird because Greenwood missed a step in the second minute of the song and why was Yorke not more engaging during "Climbing Up the Walls" -- I mean, when I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl in 2003, he not only played "2+2=5," he seemed like he actually wanted to be there.
All that stuff is nitpicky, it's greedy, and I'm sick of it. Because being overly critical of a band as big and as important as Radiohead takes away from the actual experience of seeing them live, and what we saw last Saturday was amazing. Almost every song hit the mark, beginning with the opener, "15 Step," and continuing all the way through the end of first encore, when "Street Spirit" faded out to the over 17,000 of us (some in tears) in attendance.
The second encore was the highlight for some, mostly because of the always astounding "Idioteque," (there were murmurs in the crowd that they wouldn't play it, and if they hadn't, so help me...), but the fact that we got to hear every song from In Rainbows was, perhaps, the best part. "Nude" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" sounded perfect, like nothing else in the world mattered for at least nine minutes, and "All I Need" (the song that has typically been the opener on this tour but was included here only one song before the first encore) brought the audience together (with high fives all around, hugs flowing like $9 beer) in a way only that song can.
Without question, though, "Planet Telex," "National Anthem," and "Climbing Up the Walls" were the three stand-out songs, taken as singular performances -- they seemed to transcend time and space and thought and feeling, and it was moving to see them underneath an almost full moon. And yes, they played more songs from Hail to the Thief ("The Gloaming," "Where I End and You Begin," "There There") than they did from The Bends ("Planet Telex" and "Street Spirit") or OK Computer ("Lucky" and "Climbing Up the Walls"), and maybe that is a little strange (and if you really think about it, somewhat disturbing), but it just didn't matter that Saturday night. We got to see Radiohead -- what more do you want? END