Sunday, May 18, 2008

Radiohead + St. Louis (5.14.08)

Before it even got off the ground, it was obvious that the show was to be taken seriously. On the left side of the stage were rows of banks of crates, arranged in store-esque isles. One of these crates bore the spray-stenciled name: RADIOHEAD. An arsenal of 20ish guitars lined one of the isles, ready for battle. Wires stuck out of metal crates like a network of nerves from a Davinchi anatomical sketch. From a light platform suspended above the crowd, rope ladders came down. Three stagehands climbed to the top of the platform and sat in customized seats, manning lights, pointing cameras, setting the trajectory of laser beams and whatever alien technology Radiohead was about to throw at the crowd. Yes, they meant business.

When it came time, the musicians, sans Yorke, came on and took positions in short order. The crowd -- a mix of pimply highschoolers, highbrow college nerds, polo shirt-clad frat boys, girls in towering high heels and dangling dresses, folks with mortgages and kids -- examples of every kind of live, breathing people -- started hollering in a way that couldn’t be one-upped, until Yorke finally came on stage, then it reached a new kind of loud.

Yorke came on, a bit like a nobody and a bit like an alien. He wondered back and forth at first, hands in pockets, occasionally looking at the ground, perhaps waiting for a train at a station. Or maybe he was waiting for the mother ship. He looked a bit tickled as he examined his St. Louis audience, as any average human being looks at another human being doing something odd, or maybe it was the look that an extraterrestrial observer gives when examining the human race.

This was all very strange, yes, but strange for both parties. The crowds didn’t seem to make sense of it either. Here was the band they’ve rocked-out to, toked up to, screwed and had babies to, a band built into a Beowulf-like mythological construct (Did you hear these guys didn’t even charge for the last album? No way! I heard he’s got an actual radio stuck in his head that receives all sorts of interstellar frequencies? Whoa, freaky!). Considering the hype, perhaps it was a band that wasn’t supposed to exist at all. Yet Yorke cometh, and was putzing around on a stage before all. On top of that, you could see his maligned eye from a camera feed as it shone on a display in the back of the stage. And this bassist fellow had an oddly-shaped nose and an eye that looked punched-in. And then there was Jonny Greenwood, with his bony face. What was going on? The crowd went with the flow. Beeps and boops trickled in the background and the evening began with “All I Need.”

Yorke talked after the second song, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” something about smelling donuts??? And how anybody could eat donuts at a time like this??? And now donut sales would dive??? He was talking about the smell of Elephant Ears stands, but it was barely intelligible through his British accent.

In quick succession, Radiohead played song after song from the catalog (but conspicuously nothing from Pablo Honey and only one from The Bends), not wasting any time in-between. Light effects came into full bloom, with LED tubes that hung from the rafters like neon streamers. One song they’d twinkle like ice crystals, flash like lightning and flow like rain, and the next they’d glow purple and otherworldly. Green washed down the length of the tubes like goo flowing from the sky, all very high-end and hypnotic. This was the backdrop that Yorke spazzed out to, head jerking, mouth moaning, arms and hands snaking along like he was embracing a first-time acid trip. The crowd fell in line and clapped to his beat.

Tricks were en masse. For “You and Whose Army,” Yorke made use of a piano rigged with a camera, which made for an extreme close-up blasted on the massive screen at the back of the stage. In crayola green, the audience witnessed Yorke get closer and closer to the camera, until a massive Yorke eye took up the entire screen. Backing off the camera, his face then became distorted in the screen with a fish-eye effect, before being multiplied over and over.

For “There, There,” he ran around onstage with drumsticks as the crew plopped a small drum set in front of the mike. After sitting down, Yorke said “I wonder what this thing does.”

In his second and final address to the crowd, Yorke told of a song from Amnesiac that was “lost sight of.”

“It seems very pertinent now,” he said, the “P” popping through the sound system, and played “Optimistic.”

A little over an hour of songs rapid-fire and the band rushed off. But the house lights stayed off and stagehands still ran around, preparing for who knows what. It didn’t fool any of the crowd, not for a second, so some went ahead and shouted encouragements while others sat and waited for the inevitable encore, which came in about two minutes. As the band came back, they waved and clapped. Colin Greenwood smiled big, and Yorke looked at the ground and scratched his head. They knew we knew it was all for show. There may have even been a bit of an ashamed blush on Yorke’s cheeks. He thanked the crowd and took up an acoustic, at which point the amphitheater became quiet and attentive, and “Exit Music” flowed through the PA. Little flames began cropping up in the crowd up front, people flicked on lighters. From under the stage covering, the stars couldn’t be seen, but when people in the lawn seats held up lighters, it created an eerie similarity.

When the five-song encore came to an end, Radiohead left as quickly as they did after the first set, but stagehands were still messing around with equipment, so the shenanigans were busted again. It was apparent to the audience that a second encore was inevitable, so with further encouragement, the band came out for another round. Three songs resulted (the double-encore was repeated at other concerts on the same tour), and in one last splurge of energy, going out supernova-style, the band hit the crowd with a green and purple light-strobing, video screen pixilating, uber freakout to “Paranoid Android.”

After that, it was done. Honest.


All I Need - (In Rainbows)
Jigsaw Falling Into Place - (In Rainbows)
Airbag - (Ok Computer)
15 Step - (In Rainbows)
Nude - (In Rainbows)
Kid A - (Kid A)
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi - (In Rainbows)
The Gloaming - (Hail to the Thief)
You and Whose Army? - (Amnesiac)
Idioteque - (Kid A)
Faust Arp - (In Rainbows)
Videotape - (In Rainbows)
Everything in Its Right Place - (Kid A)
Reckoner - (In Rainbows)
Optimistic - (Kid A)
Bangers + Mash - (In Rainbows)
Bodysnatchers - (In Rainbows)

Exit Music (for a film) - (OK Computer)
Myxomatosis - (Hail to the Thief)
My Iron Lung - (The Bends)
There There - (Hail to the Thief)
Fake Plastic Trees - (The Bends)

Pyramid Song - (Amnesiac)
House of Cards - (In Rainbows)
Paranoid Android - (OK Computer)

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