Sunday, 25 November 2012

Radiohead - a musical journey, Amsterdam 2012

For a generation of music fans, Radiohead were the band that took us into the new Millennium.

I am not talking about a soundtrack to a certain time in our lives, although that may also be true. I am talking about the band who took us on a musical journey from one era of music into another. The age and location of the listeners can vary, as can the other bands that make up the story. But the underlying path is always the same and the fork in that road is always OK Computer.

The background - In general 90’s music came to be defined by Grunge and the ‘Seattle Sound’. Just like everyone else, I travelled the well trodden roads of Nevermind and Ten, along with my local side streets of You Am I, Regurgitator and Spiderbait. And of course there was slightly more scenic route of Britpop, the alternative to alternative if you will.

Radiohead were a presence throughout this entire period and yet somehow managed to avoid being grouped into any particular category. Pablo Honey and in particular the single Creep launched them into the public conscience and into people’s hearts throughout 1992/93. And this, along with The Bends in 1995, had a sound that was easy to access for a lot of music fans around the world.

And then along came OK Computer, the album that changed it all. While at its heart this was still an ‘indie guitar’ album, it was also an album that introduced us to so much more. It was our first true glimpse into the world of samples and layering and electronica but in style we could still relate to. This was our generation St Peppers or Pet Sounds – a concept album we could call our own. Since that time they have just pushed their music further and further and taking an amazing number of fans on what no one could have predicted as a commercial journal.

The expectations - These thoughts are not unique and I have had endless discussions on this topic with various people over numerous beers. I raise them again one, because why else have a blog other than a place to voice your unqualified opinion? And two, to set some sort scene as to the esteem I hold this band in and where I place them in my own musical journey.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see them live for the first time, having missed them on numerous occasions before. And I was also interested to see just how far down their unique musical path they have now travelled and how many people are still keeping up with them. Here is my run down of the night:

The venue - The Ziggo Dome is tough work. This was my first trip to the main stage and I will only be back for bands I really must see or if I know I can get great seats. Full credit to our wonderful assistant Astrid, who did well to get us any tickets at all in the 15 seconds it took for this show to sell out, but despite her best efforts our seats were in the rafters. Literally, if I looked straight ahead rather than down, my eye line was with the scaffolding for lighting and sound equipment. We were also on the side, which I think did get us closer to the band but at the price of missing the full effect of the stage light show. So I think we may have missed some of the full impact of this show.

But what this did tell us is the Radiohead are in the big league. There is something impressive about a band with almost no radio play, no MTV rotation selling out this venue so big, so fast. Clearly a lot of people are still at least trying to keep up with them.

The song selection - This was pretty much in line with what I expected, and given they played both Karma Police and Paranoid Android I actually feel pretty lucky. King of Limbs was clearly the tour album of choice (unsurprisingly) and they played 6 of the 8 songs that are on the album, plus Supercollider, a ‘record day’ rarity recorded from the same sessions. In retrospect I should have invested some more time in this album than I did.

The second song of the night had been ‘Lucky’ which made it 3 songs from OK Computer in total. We also got 4 tracks each from Kid A, Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows, plus ‘You and who’s Army’ from Amnesiac and the new-ish song Full Stop. All in all a pretty good mix of albums and songs, but I would have loved just one more older one. Anything from The Bends would have been great or Talk Show Host from the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack would have really made my night.

And if it was up to me, I would have put one of them in the second or third encore. Instead we had 3 straight songs from Kid A over the final 2 encores. One of them was a brilliant version of Everything in its Right Place so I have no complaints, but throw in an older song there and it really would have made my night.

Video courtesy of as it is better than anything we were able to get from our seats

The show – One of the things I’ve heard a number of times about Radiohead is there lack of stage presence and in particular their lack of enthusiasm to be on stage. These comments were probably directed more at the late 90’s version of Radiohead than today’s version but even still, I was blown away their whole stage show and in particular the enthusiasm of Thom Yorke.

I mean sure he didn’t say a word to the crowd beyond the odd mumbled ‘thank you’, but there were times when he downed instruments and took to the mic like a young Anthony Kiedis. Jumping around the stage with his man-bun and scruffy beard – I don’t think I saw him stare at his shoes more than 8 or 9 times the entire evening.

The crowd – It is always tough to gauge the full reaction of a big crowd, but needless to say when you sell out a 15,000 seat venue in a matter of minutes – these are big fans and they all want to be there. The OK Computer tracks seemed to get the biggest reaction but overall everyone seemed to love everything they were given. My one observation from the night is that for as far as I could see in the seated section, for about every 30 people sitting you had 1 or 2 standing and going nuts to every song. It seemed in complete contrast to 28 people who sat there and slowly nodded along.

What this also told me was the people, in general, had kept up with them on their musical journey over 8 albums and almost 20 years. I would guess by the average age of the people around me that most people had followed the path in a similar manner to me. And most of us, now in our 30’s or even 40’s can relate about as much to Creep today as the band can. Which is probably why they very rarely play it these days. But there were also people there who can’t possibly have even been listening to music yet when that came out. These younger punters have clearly joined the path much later on and I can only guess the place of Radiohead is entirely different in their musical experience. And this it itself is amazing to think about.

The conclusion - At the end of the day I really don’t have a bad word to say about Radiohead or their show. They are a band that has forged their own path and they genuinely seem to enjoy what they do and the music they make. The best thing I can say about this show is that it made me go back and reassess just how good OK Computer is after 15 years and how much their music has meant to me over the past 20 years.

I am pretty sure in another 20 years I will still be boring people with how good it is and reminiscing about the night I saw them in Amsterdam.


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