England - Full Moon 119 - 06/11/06
Bank of America Pavillion, Boston, MA, 05.06.2006
After spending the last month watching Meeting People is Easy, the highly pretentious 1999 tour documentary of Radiohead by Grant Gee, you tend to expect two things from their live show: the world's best rock band that can fill an arena, and the world's most agitated and ungrateful rock band.
One of the most clearly defined moments of the documentary is a tortured band meeting in which York describes the post-OK Computer press attention as a 'complete mindfuck'. His artistic breakdown is the kind that inquires the question - how did Oasis deal with even more press? (See the latest of issue of NME in which readers proclaimed Definitely Maybe the greatest album of all time. For the record, OK Computer showed up in the top ten).
Cut to him disgustedly holding his microphone like a stubborn two year old intellectual to an enraptured audience during a very forced performance of their breakaway hit, "Creep". It's such a hostile image that would cause the average Radiohead fan to be cautious their usual behavior as an audience member as to make this unbearable experience for Thom York as comfortable as possible. You shouldn't sing with the band, you shouldn't smile, you can clap if you have to but do NOT give any form of high pitched cheer... or Thom York will think you a gushing, corporate groupie regardless of gender. This experience has a striking resemblance to that of the brainwashed, oppressed, immobile characters in their cautionary albums - making the band, ironically, an oppressive, immobilizing, Orwellian, Bush-American force that they have spent so much of their art rallying against. Ironic, when the lyric "Let's bring down the government" from "No Surprises" incited Howard Dean-like hollars from the crowd of liberal, hippie, blue state douches.
Let it be decreed, this is not the kind of Radiohead that delighted their fans with a performance of eight songs of their new album at Boston's Bank of America Pavilion on Monday June 5th, 2006. This totalitarian Radiohead of former does not involve Thom York dancing like a hippie hitting some ex at a singles Bar and would never think of writing a beach-metal anthem named "Spooks". The new, equally excessive, double drumming, democratic Radiohead (the one whose front man tells us their real goals are to 'get people out on the dance floor') does however contain these values which are explicitly written into their constitution.
This new Radiohead, who actually performed on said date, are no where near as up-tight. Thom York even cuts jokes from time to time on stage; repeating "this is the last song, this next song is the last song we're going to play, last song this is we're going to play..." like a computer virus to wrap up their hour and a half opus with "Tourist" from OK Computer. Pun intended? Whether or not it is, it's a sight for sore eyes just to see him chuckle (Radiohead fansite greenplastic.com, in fact, displays videos of him laughing as a marvel for fans to discuss in disbelief).
Does it make that for a better Radiohead show? Isn't the whole ungrateful, pissed at success, rock band gimmick what we went to see? In that way, it's detrimental. Thom York's reclusiveness is equal to the quality of his social disease as an essentiality to his art. It's the same reason we go to see Brian Wilson - not just for the Beach Boys and SMiLE tunes, but for his schizophrenia as well.
Radiohead in this new optimistic form still beats the pants out of their more pleasant contemporaries (The Muse and Death Cab for Cutie). "Bangers n' Mash" appears to be the lead single for the new album. It shines with the same downbeat drumming and engine driving guitars that will be instantly and sadly mistaken for Pearl Jam's "World Wide Suicide" in the eyes of your average, ignorant, indie-hating Godsmack fan.
They'll be more dignified where they act on their dance floor aspirations. On that token, "15 Step" is a Hail to the Thief ballad in Missy Elliot mode - it's as interesting and dangerous as it sounds. "House of Cards" is equally laid back, grooving like any given Jack Johnson track with far more intelligence. The tracks combined give off a certain variety of a familiar bipolar thematic chemistry unexhibited by this band since The Bends and OK Computer: magnifying the difference between the characters being comfortable and uncomfortable with their environment (most of the time social environment).
That's with good reason. As Grant Gee so uniquely captured, Thom York and Co. have obviously been extraordinarily uncomfortable the last few years. Six years of waiting for a good time to lighten up, they return to classics from the pre-Kid A era: "Just" and "Fake Plastic Trees" (both from The Bends)
conjured the most sing-a-long strength from the New England audience. This is all not to mention that opening the show with "Climbing Up the Walls" delivered an unpredictable storm of natural rock and roll strength that beforehand, it would be assumed such levity was reserved for their electronica performances.
It brings back a rather familiar phrase, but the band is indeed fitter, happier and more productive. They don't have a choice after exhausting all unfit, distressed and less efficient ways of art; they now must become more approachable in order to pursue another endeavor. There is, however, a big difference between the attitude of this new tour and album and that famous Mr. Speak and Spell sample: they are far more human now.
Photo © Scott Fleishman.
Copyright © 2006 Matthew DeMello