My feelings about Radiohead have always been a bit conflicted -- they can't really be as flawless as we all know they are‚ can they? In light of the In Rainbows media frenzy‚ I found myself torn between trying to prove all the critics wrong who said Radiohead is completely perfect in every way‚ and admitting that Radiohead is completely perfect in every way.
So while normal fans praised the group for having the foresight to make OK Computer and In Rainbows sound so damn amazing when meshed together‚ I sat in my dorm room and stewed about how "Karma Police" totally rips off the opening melody to "Sexy Sadie" by The Beatles‚ and how "Bodysnatchers" has a nearly identical guitar part and lyrical delivery to "Number of The Beast" by Iron Maiden (but without all the satanism). But this minor victory didn't seem to matter to my friends‚ who reminded me that "Karma Police" is fucking amazing and that comparing Radiohead to "Number of the Beast" makes Iron Maiden look even more foolish than they normally do.
When it came time for Radiohead's notorious live show to hit New England‚ I was happy to pony up over 70 bucks for a Section 12 ticket‚ the best I could get for the soon to be sold-out show even though I bought them the second they went on sale. The ticket purchasing process was strange in that it made me feel the exact opposite way I did when I swiped my free digital copy of In Rainbows last fall. The tickets were only 55 bucks before two suspect markups by Ticketmaster‚ a $7 admission charge and an $11.85 convenience charge. I'm not sure what convenience charge means‚ as it would have been more convenient for me to see the show without paying it‚ but I didn't really have time to file a complaint with how fast tickets were going. In Rainbows was revolutionary in that fans were paying the band directly without paying the greedy suits‚ but the $8 12-ounce Bud Lights at the show obliterated any notions I had that I was sticking it to the man.
At the Comcast Center‚ a semi-sheltered outdoor mini stadium‚ Radiohead proved exactly why they needed such a large venue -- their show is too expansive to fit in a club. Aside from the wide array of sounds the quintet produced on their own‚ Radiohead also brought along their unparalleled light show. The band played to a backdrop of seizure-inducing patterns‚ while a side screen broadcasted footage of the musicians in action. This allowed fans in the back‚ like me‚ to watch frontman Thom Yorke dance up a storm and bassist Colin Greenwood clap his heart out.
The band got things started with "Reckoner" from In Rainbows and followed with "Optimistic" from Kid A -- a good indication of things to come‚ as the two albums provided much of the material for the two-hour-plus set. Although the band played every song on their new album‚ the show didn't feel dominated by In Rainbows material‚ as every album in the band's discography received representation barring Pablo Honey. And despite the aforementioned emphasis on Kid A‚ a dense‚ primarily electronic album‚ the wailing guitars of Johnny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien‚ coupled with Phil Selway's booming drum beats‚ made the set a loud rock show.
Songs like "Kid A" -- the heavily manipulated title track of the 2000 album -- seemed intimate when the audience could hear Yorke singing without effects‚ and other songs from that album and Amnesiac‚ a similarly challenging album‚ seemed more human and beautiful in the live setting.
As the show progressed‚ Greenwood and O'Brien led the band through a frantic rendition of "The National Anthem‚" a slow building epic that kept adrenaline levels high when coupled with the fierce red sea of the light show. The group kept energy high on "The Bends‚" a song so catchy it made them sound like a completely accessible rock band that would be impossible for anybody not to love. The intensity dipped for a moment toward the end of the set‚ when Yorke led the crowd through a sing-a-long of "Exit Music (For A Film)" before winding everyone back up for "Bodysnatchers."
When the band returned‚ they opened up their five-song first encore with "House Of Cards‚" the most beautiful love song to have ever included lyrics about infrastructures collapsing. Crowd euphoria grew with every song‚ as the band tore through favorites like "I Might Be Wrong" from Amnesiac and their manic hit "Paranoid Android." The first encore ended with "How to Disappear Completely‚" a softer Kid A track that put me in a dreamlike state‚ agreeing with its lyrics‚ "I'm not here‚ this isn't happening."
Thankfully‚ it was happening‚ as Yorke came back onstage for a second encore‚ opening with the rarely performed "Cymbal Rush‚" from his solo album The Eraser. The show finally came to a close with a lighter-worthy sing-along to "Karma Police‚" and "Idioteque‚" a perfect bookending that assured me‚ this is really happening.
And it really was awe-inspiring. Live‚ Radiohead wasn't just good. They were so good that I don't even feel like seeing anybody else because I know they won't compare. My initial worries about whether or not Radiohead is flawless don't seem to matter very much anymore. They might not actually be invincible‚ but they make you feel like they are‚ and that's all that really matters. So even if they do borrow a riff from Iron Maiden once in a while‚ I'm willing to let it slide. I won't complain as long as they stay perfect.