the loud bassoon concert scene

Radiohead @ UMB Bank Pavilion, Maryland Heights, MO, USA
24 August 2003

There are musicians and composers whose work I know I like – works that are comfortable to me, musically, emotionally. They usually don't require much analysis and feel as welcoming as a well-worn pair of boots. To me, good music is welcoming. My ears want to absorb every last, rich detail. I want to be inside these sonic spaces, surrounded by melody, harmony, and rhythm that functions in a way that me want to listen to more. Composers like Brahms, Gillingham, Holsinger, Grainger, and Holst elicit this type of response from my musical sensibilities.

Then there are musicians and composers whose work I will never get. These individuals create a sonic assault, many times just for the purpose of causing the listener distress. Charles Ives and Arnold Schoenberg are but two composers who use dissonance, not as a tool to bring relief to a listener as the dissonance is finally resolved, but to push the listener's ear as far as it can go.

That's all well and good. It has its place. Sometimes dissonance is the only way to express what needs to be expressed (i.e. George Crumb's Black Angels). But as a listener, I tend not to want to be pushed. I'm all for experimentation, if it has purpose, and I'm hardly an Enya fan … but Radiohead live pushed me in all the wrong ways.

I borrowed OK Computer shortly after its release based on wildly good word-of-mouth. The buzz was that Radiohead was the new Pink Floyd, or the new Jesus, or whatever, and I'd be stupid to not enjoy them.

I dutifully tried to listen, but could barely make it through one track. So much unresolved dissonance! And to no apparent purpose, other than "rock band + dissonance = 'experimental'." Thom Yorke's voice grated on my ear. Try as I might, I couldn't break through the thickness of whatever it was they were trying to do.

Of course, people assured me I'd probably have to listen to it several more times before I could enjoy it. Hey … if I don't like it once, there is little point in subjecting myself to it again, hoping to start liking it. If I want to indulge my masochistic side, I'll stick to huffing gasoline.

So for awhile, I lived in a world that was blissfully ignorant of Radiohead … until grudgingly agreeing to see them live with my husband, who likes Radiohead and with whom I am trying to repair a 15-year marriage characterized by abuse, infidelity, and gasoline huffing. On the way to the concert, he played CD after CD of Radiohead, trying to expose me to their greatness. Frankly, I prefer his beatings. I tried to listen, thinking that maybe something redeeming would pop out into my ear, and that I would suddenly get Radiohead, and have a great time seeing them live.

So I listened, analyzing the music for its compositional qualities. Every song was written in the same or adjacent keys. I began counting the rampant use of augmented 4ths and minor 7ths. My molars ached at the unending, purposeless dissonance. And emotionally, they simply left me cold. Radiohead was not to be redeemed for me.

Live, the songs all sounded the same. The audience danced and sang along and I was bored. I spent the concert throwing grass at people and coming up with the formula for making a Radiohead song, which is as follows:

Since the show didn't appeal to me, I confronted myself with the question: Who WAS it meant to appeal to? I have asked the same question about Schoenberg's 12 tone matrices, Marx's Das Kapital, and "The Parkers."

Looking at the crowd, I got my answer. The audience was comprised of lots and lots of people who consider themselves intellectuals. When I went to the concession stand to buy a cookie, a guy was lecturing the cookie people about how if he buys a cookie, he would be supporting urban sprawl. I wanted to ask him how he felt about paying so much money for a concert ticket, if supporting record companies and media conglomerates was more preferable than supporting urban sprawl, but I held my tongue.

The mesh-backed trucker hat quotient was high (hope the irony is satisfying, boys, 'cause the look sure isn't), and there were enough cats-eye glasses and retro T-shirts to make me think the clothing section of Goodwill had sprouted legs. And don't get me started on whiteboy afros or Betty Page bobs. Classic hipster catch-22: Trying so desperately to look so different, yet ending up looking all the same.

Everything about this evening just seemed so … contrived. I gave the music a chance and it failed me. How such thick and unfriendly, dissonant, and disjointed music holds such appeal to the hipster crowd is beyond me. Maybe I am just not cool enough. Maybe I'm turning into my mother. Maybe I just like music.

When we returned to the car, I turned on the local classical music station and was relieved to hear Saturn from Holst's The Planets. The end of Saturn is one of the most soothing pieces of music ever written, in my opinion. It is the exact opposite of the cacophony I had just experienced. And I've never seen a Holst fan wear a fucking trucker hat.

Setlist (pilfered off internet):
the gloaming
2+2=5
sit down. stand up
where i end and you begin
airbag
bulletproof
knives out
climbing up the walls
talk show host
paranoid android
sail to the moon
a wolf at the door
go to sleep
i might be wrong
idioteque
no surprises
there there

pyramid song
myxomatosis
just
how to disappear completely

the national anthem
hunting bears
everything in its right place

Review by SIL

–SECOND OPINION–

I don't proclaim to be a musical genius, but after attending several hundred concerts, I know when I've had my ass completely kicked by a rock and roll band. Radiohead came to the UMB Pavilion in St. Louis, Missouri, and blew away everything in their path, with their artistically shimmering whirlwind of unconventional noises, odd harmonies, and uplifting spirit, transcending even the darkest of melodies.

This was the fourth Radiohead concert I've attended over the years, and the band continues to show its remarkable maturity and evolution, both in theme and artistic merit. Borrowing from influences as diverse as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Meddle-era Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Buzzcocks, Television, and even Kraftwerk, they spin a complicated web of a live show that incorporates everything from crowd noise sampled back into the PA system to hundreds of unrelated digital gadgets being forced against each other to create squelching sounds that propel the band's lush melodies.

I hate obvious movie references in concert reviews, but the shoe fits here, as Radiohead successfully play outside the laws of music much like Neo navigates the world of the Matrix films.

As the music slowly flows through the speakers, Thom Yorke and his compatriots glide effortlessly thru this intriguing sonic palette at breakneck speed. In a reckless abandon that rarely seems without purpose, the rules of conventional songwriting are tossed out like yesterday's garbage. A wide, varied range of chords are set free from the prison of I-IV-V rock hell, and tempos deliberately waver back and forth by a handful of beats per minute.

Songs stop, start and re-start at will. This is the rare group who can make a broken amplifier sound beautiful, basking its audience in the glory of an avant AM Radio wash of static.

From the opening notes of "The Gloaming," a technologically-charged barrage of musical fury, Radiohead make it clear this isn't going to be a formulaic Rush concert, more akin to Bitches Brew than Kind of Blue, and much closer to Eno than Elgar … or perhaps Tangerine Dream over Cristofori's Dream (ew, was that a David Lanz reference??).

Still, in many ways, old becomes new, with vintage synths and drum machines pushing well beyond their limits, rendering these "pawn shop relics" relevant, AND manages to make them work flawlessly in the uncontrollable parameters of the weather of an outdoor ampitheater.

While the majority of the night's pristinely-mixed material was centered on their recent Capitol release Hail to the Thief, the fivesome featured a nice musical cross-section of their career, performing at least two songs from every album but their debut Pablo Honey.

Sure, there's a contingent present who'd love to hear them go back and unearth gems like "The Trickster" and "Polyethylene" but none of the band's real fans went home disappointed, I'm sure.

There are no musical virtuosoes in Radiohead, but rather five musicians operating as one fluid entity. Still, each performer had several highlights throughout the night. Thom Yorke's voice remains immaculate and every bit as powerful as on the recordings – his hymn-like rendition of "After the Gold Rush" glistened, as did "(I Wish I Was) Bulletproof" (from The Bends. Yorke's onstage energy gives the early Bono or Mick Jagger a run for their enormous amount of money. Also priceless was Yorkeís blatant onstage shots at ClearChannel, the legalized monopoly which controls all concerts and radio stations in the free world.

The "best-kept secret" of Radiohead continues to be bass player Colin Greenwood, who can switch from a solid sequence of notes to a house groove instantly, and inspire his bandmates and the audience with his cheerleader attitude, all while standing in the back portion of the stage. Greenwood can do it all, which is rather necessary in this band.

Guitarist Ed O'Brien's ability to harmonize perfectly with Yorke's unusual voice, especially within the challenging constraints of songs like "There There," as well as his skill with the array of technology below his feet, helped embellish the canvas.

A jack of all trades, Jonny Greenwood showed why he is indeed in a class of his own, playing bells with one hand, synth with another, switching between drums and guitar mid-song, and navigating an intimidating map of classic synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers, with a wall of jackplugs that looked like a garage workspace pegboard … sometimes utilizing virtually everything at once, as on the spirited rendition of "Everything In Its Right Place" that closed the show.

Drummer Phil Selway, a master of dynamics, timing, and impossible syncopation, trades overplayed flash for a rock solid foundation which carries the band thru tricky rhythms like "Pyramid Song" or "Paranoid Android," able to completely lock in with the drum machines and synth percussion without even the slightest slip.

The visual show itself augmented the package, with phenomenal use of cameras hidden throughout the stage along with unusual, interesting light cues, and narrow video monitors that pulsated with the band's every beat.

This performance was one of the best I've seen last few years, if not ever. There's just so much to take in from the Radiohead experience that Iím still mentally processing the overload. Itís pretty easy to laugh off the British press when they proclaim a band to be "The Best Live Band In The World," but this time they actually got it right.

Review by Casey Blick