Radiohead at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. Opening act: Caribou
Bloom, There There, 15 Step, Kid A, Staircase, Morning Mr. Magpie, The Gloaming, Codex, The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy, Karma Police, Reckoner, Lotus Flower, Myxomatosis, Feral, Little by Little, Idioteque
Encore: Supercollider, Full Stop, Bodysnatchers, Everything In Its Right Place (Intro: The One I Love – R.E.M.)
Encore 2: Give Up the Ghost, Identikit, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Street Spirit [Fade Out]
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to evaluate a Radiohead performance without sitting along one of the two polar opposite ends of the fandom/critic spectrum. On side A we have the legions of fans that have loved and followed Radiohead since the days of The Bends. Radiohead’s turnover ratio for new fans is quite low,
and that’s a good thing. Those that loved Radiohead in 1995 still love them today. That can’t be said for Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis and so many more big groups from the 90’s. On side B, we have the devoted new fans – those that have only seen Radiohead live but once or twice and have become a supporter in the past half dozen years along with the other hipsters on the planet. For many of them, In Rainbows was their introduction to Radiohead. So we lie at this big dichotomy which is painfully obvious upon talking with dozens of fans after the show. For some (not all) of the long-time fans, the show was a mere shadowy interpretation of Radiohead from the past. Stellar yes, but far from their best. To the newbies, it was fucking epic – highlighted by an engaging light show full of 80-inch plasma TV’s hanging from the heavens along with a plentiful splattering of the oldies (‘Street Spirit’, ‘Karma Police’) that the new fans have recently purchased and loved since declaring In Rainbows as their favorite new album. This mix creates an interesting demographic situation at the concert.
So I’m in the middle. Call me Mr. Switzerland if you must as I try and find a peaceful resolution to the two groups looking for very different things at the same show. Solving the middle-east crisis this is not but on a muggy and breezy Sunday night in Chicago, there’s nothing more important in the world than knowing which songs Thom is going to pull out from The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A. From the perspective of yours truly, the inclusion of ‘There There’ as the 2nd song was a bolt of lightning complete with quad drummers. Mind-blowing precision and sensory-punishing theater it is. Truly one of those seminal moments from a history of live show crashing that dates back to the mid-80’s for myself. To hear this rendition and this spectacle within ten feet of the band is what it must have been like to see Elvis perform ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in 1956, or the Rolling Stones play ‘Satisfaction’ in 1966, or Jimi Hendrix performing…..well, you know where this is going. It was a rendition that came earlier than expected in the show but brought both groups of fans, both new and young together into a jaw-dropping state. The view from the front was rather unprecedented. Several photographers brushed aside their Nikons to stare at each other with eyes that looked like someone just threw a bucket of ice down their shorts, as they all joined into the applause. An amazing introduction to the power that is Radiohead and their sonic magic.
Three-quarters into the show and I ask myself – minus the glorius arena enviornment, how would Radiohead fare if it was just the band and their amps, on a dimly lit stage with no light show at the Vic Theater on a different side of Chicago in front of 1400 people, not 28,000? No more big plasma TV’s hanging from the lights, no more crowd members sitting in a different area code. Right now, I think they would destroy the Vic. These are outstanding performers still at the peak of their powers. We know Radiohead is probably towards the downslope of an amazing run. An amazing run with time that is very slowly ticking away, and in 4-6 years that beard of Thom Yorke’s is going to turn 75% gray instead of 20% like it is now. At what point will the most innovative and powerful band alive start to make us finally believe they are merely mortal, and not the gifts of our musical lives? On this night in Chicago, they are largely brilliant – and I’m certain they would be equally so in a much smaller, more initimate setting. What Radiohead has going for it is the relationship each member of the crowd has with
their favorite Radiohead songs. Each rendition brings back a memory in time that a particular song lifted them into a different emotional plane. It can be ‘Reckoner’ as much as it can be ‘Everything in its Right Place’. We want their songs to make us feel like we’re watching The Matrix – trying to decide between what is real and what couldn’t possibly be real. But we have to remind ourselves there’s now an entire group of Radiohead followers that have never even seen that film. They were probably about 6 at the time and are the same fans that first listened to Kid A about two years ago. The older crowd still shrieks at the announcement of new songs (‘Full Stop’, ‘Identikit’) as early signals of Radiohead’s next sound. The amazement we all share with Radiohead isn’t how they the make their great music, it’s how in the world they keep fucking pulling it off with such ease year after year, and show after show. Certainly it will come to a stop someday, right? The thought of seeing them as mere mortals someday is almost too much for many of us to bear. We have no one to take their place. So let me perfectly clear: attend every fucking show you can reach, and do it now.
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