This weekend, I had the honor of escorting an old friend up to Charlotte to see Radiohead in Concert. As usual, I was completely unprepared and didn’t take a camera, so, as is customary, I will reminisce with my words.
I’m not what one could ever call a true Radiohead fan. While they are truly an excellent band, I can’t say I share the obsessive, almost cult-like devotion to their live shows as many of their fans. I own three of their albums, and I enjoy them in my way, so I was very much excited to attend the concert, but perhaps not as excited as some. Actually, I was more excited about attending a massive venue. It’s funny… while I’m usually sort of hesitant to put myself in large crowd situations, music crowds don’t intimidate me at all. There’s something surreal about thousands of people directing their collective attentions in one direction. I imagine there is power in it.
More after the jump...
I was a little concerned about how much I would enjoy the concert, considering I felt like a Johnny-Come-Lately, but I was surprised and then comforted by the diverse demographics in attendance. For every somewhat intoxicated fratboy who felt the need to bellow every word to every song, there was a quiet thirty-something tapping his foot ever so delicately to the beat. For every shrieky girl slowly unraveling on the spot upon hearing the opening strains of her favorite tune, there was a shy, supportive girlfriend hanging on to her boyfriend’s hand, since he was obviously the true fan of the two.
A few years back, I attended a Tori Amos concert with Roommate (and I should mention that he’s about as obsessed with Tori as anyone has a right to be), and I sensed a certain… disdain from the people surrounding us regarding my obvious amateur status as a Tori fan. (Now, they should be thrilled to know that I’ve come a long way in my Tori education, no thanks to them.) So, that’s why I was a little nervous going to a Radiohead show with a decidedly low level of expertise regarding their music. I didn’t know many of the songs (not that it mattered… I couldn’t understand a word out of Thom Yorke’s mouth. He’s either mealy-mouthed or I was rendered deaf by the sound system), and when I would ask my friend what song I was hearing, nearby patrons would not only turn around and answer me, but also offer long-winded explications and thorough background stories about each song. I felt welcome, and the fans seemed genuinely excited to spread the Gospel of Radiohead to me… the uninitiated.
They played a long set, probably 20 songs, and the crowd ate out of their hands the entire time. My favorite moment was Paranoid Android, from the album Ok Computer, which is not only one of the songs I know, but also my favorite. Another great moment was the opener of the show, All I See from their new album, In Rainbows.
After the concert, my friend likened the concert to a religious experience, and judging by the faces in the crowd as we made our exit, she was right on. I’m probably not white enough or straight enough to be the kind of person that “gets” Radiohead, but I can only assume that most of the people at the concert had just experienced something that I could only experience by seeing Madonna – the out-of-body bliss of seeing and hearing your favorite music performed in real time. I really respect that.
Seeing Radiohead has really given me an appetite for live concerts, which is something I never thought would happen. I’ve always been wary of live performances because I usually find them disappointing, especially if I’ve fallen in love with a recording. Like, one time, I went with Roommate to hear the Charlotte Symphony play Beethoven’s 7th (probably my favorite, after the 9th and 5th… I know, predictable), and I was flabbergasted by how kind of… not good it turned out to be. Now, by most standards, it wasn’t bad at all, but I’d gotten so used to my recording of the New York Phil and Bernstein that I noticed every little problem. I knew good and well that this wasn’t the New York Phil and I should probably lower my standards, but for some reason, I couldn’t turn off my critical ear. I wondered if I would have enjoyed it more if I’d never heard my recording, and chances are I would have, but that didn’t help me get through hearing it. I can also mention my Exhibit B: seeing The Phantom of the Opera in New York. I couldn’t stop myself from fixating on the fact that Christine didn’t sound like Sarah Brightman and the Phantom didn’t sound like Michael Crawford. That soundtrack ruined Phantom for me, basically. (But I still love it). To translate that into popular music, let me just say that you couldn’t pay me to attend a live performance of Britney Spears, or Gwen Stefani, or most pop acts. So very few of them can actually sing live, it’s kind of ridiculous. Again, I love my divas and I love the music, and I understand how difficult it must be to reproduce the sounds of their albums on the live stage, but… I don’t know - if it doesn’t sound like what I’m used to, I just get turned off. Don’t confuse what I’m saying with remixes, because those are purposefully different, so I listen with an open mind. I’m talking about pop stars who can’t stay in tune without a production staff. I will buy their albums and gush about them on my blog, but you’d have to trick me like a dog on the way to the vet in order to get me to a live concert.
I think Radiohead may have changed my mind, though. They reinforced something that I knew to be true in theory, but had never experienced… live music can be really good. My mission is clear: I will henceforth be known as a Concert Goer Extraordinaire. Before I expire from this Earth, I must see Madonna (that was true before Radiohead, though), but I intend to attend as many concerts as possible going forward.
So, thank you Radiohead. You made a believer out of me.