Archive for August, 2018

Present Tense: Radiohead In Philly As The Apogee Of Arena Shows

Posted in Music with tags , , on August 1, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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We don’t go to a lot of arena shows, because the bands we love aren’t popular.  Seeing Wand at the 150-person DC9 was a highlight of 2017; the fact that, with Courtney Barnett playing guitar in her band, Jen Cloher’s show earlier this year had to move from DC9 to the larger Rock & Roll Hotel (300 people) was, in our house, welcome but disorienting.  Spending months of our lives seeing bands at the 9:30 Club has worked for decades now, because a 1000-person hall is the ideal size for a great show.  But every once in a long while, we go to an arena and remember what it was like to see the Stones at Madison Square Garden, The Who at Boston Garden — you know, the shows that were spectacles which you lived and died to see.

Earlier this summer, we saw U2 at the Capital One Arena in D.C. and they put on a pretty great show.  They’re long in the tooth, but come on, they’re a great band, playing in their fifth decade, and they certainly know how to deconstruct an arena and make it intimate.  It wasn’t just Bono in motion, but the whole band, one song played on the north side, the next song the band trucks to the south side, and at one point, I think they were spread like a star across the entire 18,000 person hall. The Fleshtones sometimes do that in clubs, the singer on a bar stool, the bass player on a speaker, the guitarist in the mosh pit.  Only in this case, U2 were a few hundred yards apart, still playing as one.  A spectacle, and highly entertaining.  But of course, other than as nostalgia, and with the sentiment of singalongs, not particularly meaningful as art.

Last night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena, Radiohead stayed fixed on a single stage, and played an astonishing show that accomplished the impossible: it was at once gorgeous and inventive musically, an avant-garde exploration of what is possible on stage, and it gave both rock critters and the masses exactly what they wanted.  In short, it jacked into all that is good about a mass event that connects multiple audiences, which happens less and less these days.

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Here are stats: six songs from A Moon Shaped Pool, three each from Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows, OK Computer, The King of Limbs, and two each from Amnesiac, Kid A, and The Bends.  Seventeen songs before two long clusters of encores, finishing with a “Paranoid Android” that floated in the air before “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” was spiked into the court. For us, highlights were hearing “I Might Be Wrong” live for the first time; favorites like “The Numbers” and “Separator” came off brilliantly.  (Had we ever before noticed how much “2+2=5” sounds like Fugazi…)

Because Radiohead albums are perfect — every tone gloriously honed, the craftsmanship at once classic as a Chris Craft, industrial perfection like a Leica M, super modern like an Apple iPhone — it can seem self-defeating to go hear them live.  Do we really want oxygen to get into this mix?  Oh yeah.  They play with ferocity and just imperfectly enough for it to have life.  Having last seen them play live at an Austin City Limits taping, I was unprepared for the full show, the stage craft, what a great band they are 25 years on.

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They are a band that it is sometimes hard for people to get a grip on — at once an arena act and difficult, crowd pleasers and demanding and challenging artists.  Thom Yorke is among the greatest pop singers, and a polarizing figure who, because of our distance from the stage, was more entertaining for what we didn’t see — the Caddyshack Gopher dance that Fred Armisen so perfectly parodies.  But he is an amazing musician, singer and bandleader.  Johnny Greenwood is at once a favorite guitarist, percussionist and composer.  They’re a bundle of contradictions, a band you’d like to see play in their small rehearsal studio, but only fully actualize in front of 18,000 people.

Arena rock is not what it once was.  Radiohead is a perfect connection to the past and the apogee of the present tense.  What a show.

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