Low/Radiohead (Bergamo Arena, Italy)

I’d initially been really excited about the fact that Low was opening for Radiohead. I missed Low’s gig at the Union Chapel earlier this year because it was Valentine’s Day weekend and I grudgingly recognized the need to do something romantic rather than drag long-suffering Alec to yet another gig. The sacrifice was more than worthwhile, but I always hoped I’d get another chance to see Low, and this was it. The problem was that their beautiful, deliberative harmonies were completely incompatible with a jabbering crowd of people who didn’t seem to give a damn about them. Little Argument With Myself, so well-suited to late nights alone in my room, lying on the bed in the dark waiting for sleep, just didn’t work in a huge outdoor venue. With twilight more than an hour away, that sublime climax of “Cos there’s nothing as sad as a man on his back counting STARS” fell flat, or at least it was hard for me to feel much while trying to shut out the clamouring Italians around me. Oh well. Great band, wrong place and time. A pity.

So finally, Radiohead. What can I say except that they were a dream come true, and by this I don’t mean the kind of dream where all my teeth are falling out and I can taste the blood but the kind where I’m roller-blading and I’m amazing, I can jump and turn and land and do all the cool stunts, but of course I’m not weighed down by all that pesky safety gear ‘cos I don’t need it, I’m amazing, and at the end I even start to fly.

Here’s a setlist:

  • There there
  • 2+2 = 5 (Thom swats flies which keep clustering around the mike, nice parallel with “I swat em like flies but like flies the buggers keep coming back” in the song although I don’t think he could possibly have planned it.)
  • Lucky
  • Talk Show Host
  • Scatterbrain
  • The National Anthem
  • Backdrifts
  • Sail To The Moon
  • Kid A
  • Bones
  • Where I End and You Begin
  • I Might Be Wrong
  • Fake Plastic Trees
  • A Punchup at a Wedding
  • Paranoid Android (Thom: “This is a song called Paranoid Android.” As if you needed to name it.)
  • Idioteque
  • Everything In Its Right Place
  • The Gloaming
  • Pyramid Song
  • My Iron Lung
  • Like Spinning Plates
  • Exit Music (For A Film)
  • Sit down. Stand up.
  • Karma Police

The feelings of inadequacy that plague me every time I try to write about music are slapping me around the head with a vengeance here. I feel almost, well, unworthy to review a Radiohead concert. We are not on the same musical plane, they and I. They make music and I learn to like it, it’s that simple. This doesn’t require much effort, but I sometimes need a fair amount of time to get my head round the music, which leads me to the first thing I was going to say.

Most of the songs sounded pretty much similar to their studio recordings, which is not a bad thing given that their studio recordings sound bloody fabulous, but I guess I was hoping for more radical reworkings. I’d have quite liked to work more to figure out the songs, rather than recognize them instantly from the start. On the other hand, this may not be the best way to do a big outdoor summer gig which people don’t expect to be “difficult”. So I’m not too sure what to make of their rather happy romping versions of Kid A and Everything In Its Place. They were certainly interesting to listen to, but they featured nothing I’d liked about the recordings. The piano version of Like Spinning Plates, however, was heartstopping.

In general, HappyThom was the order of the evening, dancing like a loon to Idioteque, doing Karma Police like a massive goodbye singalong with none of the claustrophobia or despair of the album version, no venom at all in the middle section of Paranoid Android where he used to spit “Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy.” Dancing crazily is rather endearing, but I’d have rather liked a bit of the old bitterness in the latter two.

This isn’t to say that everything was sweet and fuzzy. Guitars went mad in Backdrifts, which is even more fantastic live than it is on the album. The National Anthem, Bones, and I Might Be Wrong rocked hard, and the buildup in Sit Down Stand Up to the frenetic “The raindrops” climax was brilliantly agonizing.

Would I have changed some songs in the set? Well, yes. I’d have taken out Scatterbrain, Kid A, Bones, Pyramid Song and My Iron Lung, but only because I like them less than Black Star, No Surprises, You And Whose Army (make that most of Amnesiac, actually), I Will and Wolf At The Door.

Okay. Enough of this attempt at objectivity, balance or good writing. I SAW RADIOHEAD!!! THEY PLAYED LOTS AND LOTS OF SONGS!!! I REALLY REALLY LOVE RADIOHEAD!!!

Hail To The Thief – First Impressions

On first three listens to Hail To The Thief, the songs which are standing out to me are Backdrifts, I Will and Wolf At The Door. But anything could happen between now and 7 July (when, after four years of trying and failing to get Radiohead tickets because they sell out in this country within 10 minutes, I’ll finally, finally, finally get to see the band live, although I’ll have to go to Italy for it). Meanwhile, I haven’t been this excited about listening to a new release (by any artist) since, well, Amnesiac, and there’s a whole 56.37 minutes’ worth of fascinating sounds to explore here, plus supercool limited edition roadmap packaging and sleeve notes! (Just grant me this small joy, will you, I’m writing a fucking dissertation.)

Long Short Break

Today could have been better. I didn’t go for any of the four hours of lessons I was supposed to go for, which is quite worrying. I *am* doing something productive now though, or at least I was before I decided to take a short break. :)

I should really pop down to Stefan’s room and return him his Radiohead book, which I’ve had for the past two weeks. It was quite a good read for someone like me who’s been buying their albums but doesn’t really know anything about them. Assuming the writer was giving an accurate portrayal (which is, I admit a huge assumption as rock journalism goes), I was drawn to the picture that emerged of the band as people and musicians – the overall impression I got was that of people who have found the happy compromise between pursuit of intellect and artistry, and keeping their heads on straight with regards to everything else that’s important about living life.

Kid A has been growing on me. I don’t foresee liking it more than OK Computer but a number of its more subtle touches are beginning to sink in – a dissonance here, a resonance there, every now and then there’s something that catches my attention and makes me check the track display so I can remember it for future listening. I don’t think this album has the coherence and flow of OK Computer, but I definitely wouldn’t say Radiohead have lost their way or anything quite so drastic. [Random edit upon re-reading this in 2008: Haha, I totally prefer Kid A now and have for years!]

Anyway, most of the best albums I’ve ever listened to, or at least the ones I’ve ended up liking the most, have always taken a while for me to like – OK Computer took me three months to get into, and my first Sonic Youth album (Daydream Nation) took a year to go from something that sounded very interesting but very strange to something that sounded better than anything I’d ever heard. I was only convinced I hadn’t wasted money on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea after four months. I liked both Odelay and Midnite Vultures by Beck the first time I heard them, but since then Mutations, which I was disappointed with at first, has emerged as my favourite Beck album.

Damn. This hasn’t been a short break. I blame the music, maaaaan.