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Concert Review: Radiohead – March 15 2012 Glendale, AZ

Last week I drove out to Glendale, Arizona for to see my seventh Radiohead concert. I’m proud of the fact that I have seen them once per album since 1997. And while I cannot say this was as epic as some of the shows in the past, it was a total blast and quite memorable for a few reasons.

First, an indoor arena has a significantly different feel than the big outdoor concerts they have been focused on the past 10 years. While the capacity of the arena in Glendale was not drastically smaller than, say, the Hollywood Bowl (surprisingly very similar), the fact that it was indoor with a general admission floor gave a much different experience. You could actually see the band! I could, anyway, as I was on the floor, not too far back from the stage. This video is indicative: it seems to have been shot and zoomed over my head.

That video also brings me to my other point about Radiohead’s setlists. Most bands will play their new songs pretty straight, while maybe experimenting a bit with their older songs. Radiohead? The exact opposite. As you can hear with this old song (“Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box”), it sounds fairly similar to the recorded version on Amnesiac. But compare that to the new “Bloom” at the top, which has expanded and blown up into an entirely new experience. Most of the new King Of Limbs songs were like this. “Little By Little,” while dark on record, sounds downright menacing live. “Good Morning Mr Magpie” is sped up. “Feral” explodes into some crazy thing, somehow becoming one of the more exciting songs in the set. (Why can’t it sound like that on the record?!) The new songs were pretty mindblowing, and that is what I will remember most of all about the music this tour.

But then, the converse is true too: the old songs sound exactly like you’d expect. I love hearing the songs fucked with and expanded like this and why can’t they do that with the old songs too? Doesn’t have to be drastic, but “Paranoid Android” and all those sound like they always have. Do they have to? If they can experiment with “Feral,” why not the old stuff? I do not mean to diminish the excitement of hearing the “Airbag” riff in person, don’t get me wrong. I definitely recognize how great it is to still go to a show, 15 years later, and still have that “Paranoid Android” crowd frenzy. But it did make me wonder if they cruise through certain things to some extent? I don’t know, I’m conflicted on this–torn between wanting more experiments but also loving their back catalog. In the end though, Radiohead on cruise control still sounds like this, so I’m just nitpicking:

Other little thoughts: “Lotus Flower” appears to be their new most-popular song, the crowd went crazy for it, along with old faves like “Idioteque” and “There There.” I really can’t imagine them dropping any of those from any set they do, ever.

Outside the King Of Limbs stuff, they also played recent tracks like “The Daily Mail” and “Identikit.” A few other new songs have shown up on this tour, but those were the two I heard. Thom told the crowd that their goal was to play more new stuff–looking back is ok but looking forward is what keeps them going. “Identikit” reminded me a bit of “Lotus Flower,” maybe just less seductive. That’s first impression though, and will be curious if they release it soon (Thom said it was his favorite new song). They did release a live version of “The Daily Mail” recently, and it’s been growing on me quite a bit.

Anyway, Radiohead’s songs are so good and they’re such amazing performers that there’s no way a show won’t rejuvenate you.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #3. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

The King Of Limbs

don't blow your mind with why

In the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper tells a room of hippies that the “universe is indifferent.” This bums them out, but it does get to the heart of Don Draper — this idea is how and why he feels free. (Sorry if you don’t know the character.) Similarly, on The King Of Limbs, Radiohead’s universe is a tumultuous one, and probably also an indifferent one. From within that tumult, Thom Yorke, as always, is trying to feel free.

The first few tracks depict the universe. Oceans bloom, jellyfish float by, the universe sighs. A no-good magpie steals memories, magic, melodies. “Obligations / complications / routines and schedules / drag and kill you,” Yorke sings on the dark “Little By Little.” These are hardly unusual depictions for Yorke, who regularly writes of the havoc in the universe in his songs, from car crashes to ice ages to spinning plates to weird fishes and worms. Metaphors? Sure. But also a world in constant upheaval.

That’s all well and good, but it’s just a set-up for the second half of the album. While this havoc goes on all around, Yorke keeps confronting it head-on. “And while the ocean blooms / it’s what keeps me alive,” he recognizes. This confrontation leads to a freedom, a state of mind, where there’s nothing to fear and nothing to doubt:

– “We will shrink and be quiet as mice / While the cat is away / Do what we want”
– “I will shape myself into your pocket / I will shrink and I will disappear”
– “Jump off the end / Into a clear lake / The water’s clear and innocent”
– “I think I should give up the ghost” (a phrase defined as “ceasing to exist” on dictionary.com)
– “Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying”
– “Put the shadows back into the boxes / I have jettisoned my illusions” (on a b-side that didn’t make the album; shared below)

Those are all from the last four songs on the album; and clearly tie them all together. He is free. I’ve read a lot of different interpretive angles about Limbs, from climate change to suicide to dreams to Buddhist rebirth to whatever. And I’m not going to try to get that specific on it (besides comparing it to Mad Men, of course). But that is to say, these are some pretty deep songs when you look at them closely. (Just like Mad Men.)

Musically, of course, Radiohead keeps expanding their sound. My understanding from following them for so many years now is that after every album, they nearly break-up, and then totally rebuild how they create music. The end result may stay the same (killer songs), but the process evolves. The King Of Limbs seems to me to borrow a lot more from electronic music (that gorgeous “cat is away” break in “Lotus Flower,” the creative drums/percussion on “Separator” and “Bloom,” the vocal loops of “Give Up The Ghost,” etc.). In some ways, this is the Radiohead album that feels less like a band performance than ever before; but perhaps that was in reaction to their last album, which totally felt like that.

I’ll be honest here too: out of all Radiohead albums this is probably the one I’ve obsessed over the least. It’s still better than most everything out there though, and that’s why it’s one of the best albums of the year. I won’t claim to be unbiased on this list–it’s Radiohead and I’m me and they’re going to be ranked high. Regardless, I’m sure everyone I know who might possibly be reading this probably has already heard The King Of Limbs. (If not, why are we friends?*)

Radiohead “Supercollider”

Radiohead “Separator”

*lol j/k**
**sort of

- almostaghost