Monday, August 25, 2008

THE STAGE HECKLER: Radiohead live = WOW!!!

I'm still trying to absorb what I saw five nights ago, when I took it upon myself to check out this arty, cutting edge rock band at the White River Amphitheater near Seattle (actually on a rez near the suburb of Auburn).

In uncharacteristic August fashion, the d
ay presented a slew of torrential downpours, making the adventure to get there a little, taking advantage of my local knowledge, I avoided the mess by taking a series of backroads to get to the show.

Then the rain stopped just before I arrived...Radiohead's magic had come to town. Birds started to's meowed...uh, yeah.

For starters, the band is pushing new frontiers as an eco-friendly touring act, tabulating their
carbon footprint and utilizing new lighting techniques onstage. Instead of presenting what we know as a typical onstage light show, the band is hauling a series of "draped lights" that hang down from the rafters and illuminate the stage through what I guess was some sort of static electricity that probably didn't require much in the way of power...I counted six rows of about a dozen hanging lights.

Working together the lights illuminated the stage and synchronized patterns in a variety of colors...the stage would be washed in pinks, reds, blues and greens. It was artistically impressive and unlike anything anyone in the audience had ever seen before, I would guess.

Oh yeah, of course there was music too...let me start with the set list for the night...apparently they culled this differently night to night from a rehearsed number of 50 songs. Many selections were from their latest release, In Rainbows, which came out at first last December (online, through a unique pay-what-you-want offer, which cut out the record company middleman) and in January in stores on the standard compact disc:

  • 15 Step
  • Reckoner
  • Optimistic
  • There There
  • All I Need
  • Pyramid Song
  • Talk Show Host (holy crap!! 90s era b-side…)
  • The National Anthem
  • The Gloaming
  • Videotape
  • Lucky
  • Faust Arp [Thom messes up lyrics several times, starts singing Neil Young's "Tell Me Why"; Jonny tries to follow along but can't quite get the chords. Phil comes out and drops an American dollar bill out in front of Thom and Jonny and runs away laughing. Thom and Jonny crack up completely to loud cheers. Thom tries again, says "Fuck it!", but then continues and finishes the song.]
  • Jigsaw Falling Into Place
  • Climbing Up The Walls
  • Dollars and Cents
  • Nude
  • Bodysnatchers
  • Encore 1: How to Disappear Completely
  • Arpeggi/Weird Fishes
  • Idioteque
  • In Limbo [Tambourine accompaniment by Nigel Godrich. Thom, 'This is Nigel', Ed, 'He makes our records.']
  • Street Spirit
  • Encore 2: You And Whose Army? [Thom dedicates to the people who demonstrated against the WTO in Seattle in 1999]
  • No Surprises
  • Everything In Its Right Place
You might notice by looking at the set list that missing in action was quite a bit of material from their two most popular albums of the 1990s, The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). I don't think we had anything from the former, although three offbeat tracks were offered from the latter. That being said, fans of old Radiohead might have felt a bit disappointed.

They can't satisfy everyone, unfortunately...especially if they're fond of presenting their new material. All things considered, with the exception of those two albums the song list was interesting and balanced...and they were at liberty to dive deeper into other material.

It seems that Radiohead is also shooting for some kind of a world record for number of
instruments used during a live performance. These guys just seem to get off on noodling around with everything they can get their hands on.

Despite what could be interpreted as a display of showmanship as multi-instrumentalists, as the night went on it became obvious that this band
is not concerned with showing off talents of musical prowess, but collectively wants to serve their music by using all the electronic goodies available to them in their effort to bring their visions to life.

Needless to say, it was fun to watch them recreate their studio wizardry onstage in the live setting.

Opening the set with "15 Step," from In Rainbows, halfway through the tune guitarist Ed O'Brien could be seen walking around onstage with what I can only describe as a transistor
radio, but it was probably a gadget along the lines of an analog he triggered these spacey sound effects, his electric guitar dangling around his neck unused for the moment.

Then more drums appeared onstage during "There There" (from 2003's Hail to the Thief) as the two guitarists became a second and third drummer to enhance the effect of the beat...lead singer Thom Yorke then kept the song moving with guitar...but no, wait! Partway through the song I literally saw Jonny Greenwood, the other guitarist, play guitar and drums simultaneously...not kidding.

These instrumental theatrics were typical throughout the night.
Even the bass player, the other Greenwood brother, took up synthesizers at one point.

Many of you might know Radiohead through their lead singer, Thom Yorke. As impressive as he is in his abilities, which range from his beautiful voice to his wonderful guitar work and piano playing, it's the shy lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood who stole the show.

Greenwood must have performed off at least 10 different instruments throughout the night...let's count them.

  1. guitar
  2. drums
  3. keyboard instrument #1 (will find out more about his equipment)
  4. keyboard instrument #2
  5. keyboard instrument #3
  6. transistor radio (obviously modified to bring radio sounds into the performance)
  7. some sort of analog synthesizer
  8. violin bow (for the guitar)
  9. glockenspeil
  10. Kaos Pad (makes those trippy effects, samples and loops during "Everything in its Right Place"... no, that's not Yorke tripping on acid and making funny effects with his voice)
  11. Something resembling a lemon (which I guess makes a percussive sound when it's shaken?)
  12. a wrench (for repairs to a car engine, live onstage...just kidding, but I wouldn't have been shocked)
Maybe I missed something...but that's most of it.

Greenwood gives off a presence that's nothing short of the mad scientist noodling around with gadgets, strings, sticks and knobs all over the room...a multi-tasker who's simply not satisfied with the fact that he's on Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time list.

He and Radiohead perform what they want in their own way...and they don't care how they look doing it. Rest assured, it was all good.

For any fan of live shows out there, this band is an ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENT to your live stock. Whatever you do, don't miss them...they aren't on tour that often to begin with.

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