Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dave Jackson
Radiohead :: 05.17.08 :: Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion :: The Woodlands, TX
It's difficult to mine my thesaurus for any new synonyms to describe the resounding influence and striking power of Radiohead. They are one of those rare "across the board" bands that most folks of disparate musical backgrounds can come to some sort of truce over. But, as I stood in the heart of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and surveyed the crowd of all ages and assortments, I couldn't help but wonder what it is exactly about Radiohead that brings us together under an all-encompassing tent.
Perhaps it's because they give voice to our collective unease. Broiling throughout their work is a deep repulsion with plastic suburban reality and the liars in political and corporate offices that help create it. Yet this antipathy is surrounded by a clever sense of melody, technological prowess and uncensored emotional release that isn't limited to mere anger at the system. There is also the possibility of transcendence, however elusive. This is perhaps most apparent in their awe-inspiring live shows, which arouse genuine outbursts of emotion, crazy screams or simply silent awe from the audience. Somewhere in that release you gotta believe is the hope that we aren't fucked after all.
Saturday's weather reflected that initial feeling of gloom with gray drizzle over a pedestrian shopping mall across the street from the venue, where efforts to look effortlessly natural could not hide the crass commercialism of the space ("Fake Plastic Trees" indeed). Once inside and safely tucked under the pavilion, the sunshine broke just as Liars took the stage. "Houston, we have held the storms at bay," proclaimed towering Aussie frontman Angus Andrews as the folks on the lawn shed their windbreakers and ponchos. It was weird and wonderful to see this band outside of a club setting, but Radiohead are open fans of Liars (listen to Thom Yorke's guest DJ slot on NPR), whose blend of noise rock and discordant reverb can be as off-putting to some as it is exciting to others. I am one of the latter, and I stood shaking my head in vigorous approval as Liars tore their set wide open, leaving the guts and meat of sound spread on the stage. Through the beating stratums, screeching attacks and heavy drones, Andrews stalked around the stage like a man possessed, shuddering his body to attention and at times staring intensely at some imagined point on the horizon. They clearly had a divided audience. For every couple standing and rocking there were plenty sitting silently and checking their watches as the sun sank.
After Liars left the auditory landscape in ruins, the depths of anticipation grew as row after row of long metallic light tubes were meticulously drawn across the stage, the mere presence of roadies eliciting cheers from the audience. Everyone was clearly chomping at the bit, waiting for the house lights to go down, and when Radiohead took the stage it was to deafening roars. Opener "15 Steps" was predictable, but a punchy kick-start to the set, as it is on In Rainbows. Nearing the end of this leg of the tour, the mechanisms driving the stage show were running smoothly and quickly and there was very little down time between songs. Yorke moved between guitar, piano and his signature enraptured dancing with quick ease, but his formidable presence does not distract from the other band members. I was especially impressed, as I always am, with Johnny Greenwood's techno-sculpting and Phil Selway's percussive switchbacks. Honestly, I can't remember the last gig I went to where each individual member changed instruments so frequently and proficiently. Under the hood this engine runs clean.
Radiohead :: 05.17 :: Texas
A shimmering "Morning Bell" kicked off a series of songs that fell gradually into an uneasy abyss, climaxing with the heavy beats of "Weird Fish/Arpeggi," which spiraled further down into the nail biting claustrophobia of "The Gloaming." The explosion and audience jolt that "National Anthem" caused following this trio scooped us back up from the ocean floor. It may be calculated tension and release but I'll be damned if it didn't feel like being pushed to the surface, rising quickly towards the light at 100 miles an hour, our fear turned into liberation. This ebb and flow marked the set, that didn't reach farther back than Kid A, with the notable exception of "Lucky." It played out like some sort of post-apocalyptic rock opera, balanced equally with computer blips and acoustic guitars and capped by the hypnotic dual bass drum beating of "There There."
Initially, I was not equally as spellbound by the first encore. I personally find "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" and "House of Cards" to be two of Radiohead's weaker tracks, which says something about the high bar their music has set for itself, and live they failed to take off. But, when I saw Ed O'Brien, Yorke and Greenwood each pick up an electric guitar I braced myself for a wicked sideswipe. It came hard and heavy with a brutal "Climbing Up the Walls" and doubled back for another swing with a gorgeous, swirling "Planet Telex."
Radiohead :: 05.17 :: Texas
This rocketed me into evocative memories of listening to The Bends while driving in my friend's Camaro somewhere in the backwoods of Rhode Island. I stayed in that orbit through the always-popular (with great reason) "Idioteque" finale. In many ways, a Radiohead soundtrack has marked my growing awareness of this world. As they evolved, so did I, rolling on turns of beauty and despair sometimes existing only a few notes apart. "There was nothing to fear / Nothing to doubt."
05.17.08 :: Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion :: The Woodlands, TX
15 Steps, Bodysnatchers, Lucky, Morning Bell, Nude, Pyramid Song, Weird Fish/Arpeggi, The Gloaming, National Anthem, Faust Arp, Videotape, Optimistic, Where I End and You Begin, Reckoner, Everything in its Right Place, All I Need, There There
Encore I: Jigsaw Falling Into Place, House of Cards, Climbing Up the Walls, Planet Telex, Street Spirit (fade out)
Encore II: You and Whose Army?, Idioteque
"Everything in its Right Place" - 5/17/08 - Houston, TX
JamBase | Deep In The Heart
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