RADIOHEAD | LIVE ECLECTRIC MUSIC

08.14.01 | Suffolk Downs | Boston, MA

The phenomenon that has become Radiohead is similar to volcanic activity. Violent spurts of musical triumph have laid waste to the landscapes created by both the pop rocker and the electronic button pushers. The fact is that the recorded music created over the last decade by this experimental act has always been fresh and creative. My question for the group was whether or not these innovations in the studio could be translated to the stage. Then, once that studio music is translated to the live performance,could the band improvise the eerie and beautiful sounds recorded on Kid A and Amnesiac to create something all together unique.

An uneven field next to a dog track was the unlikely site for Radiohead’s only New England concert. While many lined up early in the day, I had only enough time to run in as Kid Koala, mix master extraordinaire, began his half hour set. Then at 8 o’clock, Radiohead took the stage on a Tuesday night with 25,000 folks inattendance. These are impressive numbers for a weekday night, but this is not a normal pop act. The fact is that while what Radiohead is doing is not singular and unique, they have managed to reach a wide audience with their ECLECtric music. A range of artists have incorporated what is often seen as impure elements in their music, by using drum machines, synth loops, and recorded samples. Radiohead embraced these elements in the studio and produced music that I did not believe could be created live, and I was wrong.

While many of the songs played by the band followed their skeletal structures from the albums, the band was able to explore several variations in both vocals and musical “jams.” These jams were beyond my expectations, with Johnny Greenwood using a variety of distortion techniques to create the odd synth tones and washes that appear on the album. The use of a keyboard by both Thom Yorke and Greenwood made for unique layers of sound, taking from the established themes of songs and abstracting them. In idioteque, they used several old school moog-like synth sounds to create a crescendo leading into the frightening and abrasive vocals. Yorke’s vocal style led to some interesting soloing that took over the larger soundscape at times, and blended unnoticed at others.

A hidden camera style shot of Thom Yorke and band mates presented a view of the on stage frenzy. The low angle extreme close up allowed Thom’s vocal abilities to be coupled with an image for those of us too far from the stage to see facial expressions. A lighting set up created a show that varied throughout the 1 hour and 15 minute set, and then 35 minutes of encores, seemed to be something out of the set for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, flashing along with the beat. Then in the ambient structure songs, create a blanket of light over the performers and crowd. As live performances go, Radiohead was able to create not only ashow to see, but a sonic creation outside of the normal realm of concert going.

Jeff Bergman
JamBase | Boston
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[Published on: 8/17/01]

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