Radiohead in Philadelphia, June 13th
A week ago I had the pleasure to see Radiohead perform at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Philadelphia, my place of origin, and probably one of the most beautiful cities in the country (no bias). Now seeing Radiohead was probably at the top of my bucket list. Now that I have, I don’t really have much aim or direction in my life (that is a joke). But, seriously, Radiohead is assuredly my favorite band and thus I had high hopes and expectations for what the concert would be like.
On Wednesday morning, at 10:30 AM I left BRU to hop on a bus to New York. From New York I took a bus to Philadelphia where I met some friends that gave me a lift to Camden, just over the river from Philly. Radiohead played. Radiohead rocked. I headed home for an hour, made it to the 3:20 AM bus from Philly to NY and was back in Providence, back to work at BRU, by 11:30. I worked for 8 hours, headed home, and crashed after a 36 hour journey/experience/workday/stint-without-sleep. If I had to, I would not sleep for a week just to see my favorite band on this good earth.
Before I start talking about the performance, I want to talk about the journey. Now, I’ve been around New York and Philadelphia on a couple of different occasions and there are always people that want to chat about random things. Not everyone is friendly, most people don’t make eye contact, and anyone that is in a rush is liable to bowl you over if you try to ask them directions. But, for some reason on this particular trip, people would not leave me alone. Which I was all for because talking to random people in any city is always an interesting thing.
Waiting for the bus in Providence, on the bus to New York, to Philly, at the bus station at 3 AM on a Thursday morning, even when I was trying to do some work/sleep from New York back to Providence, people were talking to me about anything and everything. There was Frank, the 62-year-old truck driver/auto-mechanic, Marisabel the middle-aged hispanic woman on her evening commute from New York to Philadelphia, Tony (a 25-year-0ld musician who apparently just picked up a pound of shrooms from New York), Curtis (a guy who just got put on probation for selling ecstasy pills and trying to hustle me into giving him money), Fred (an older man speaking with Curtis and Tony, nostalgic for the times where he hung out with doped out Jazz musicians high out of his mind on a handful of speed pills), and Christine, a graduate student from New York headed to Providence to give a talk on art history at a convention at Brown.
Why am I telling you about all of these people? Because besides telling me their stories they asked mine. And when I told them where I was going or where I was coming from, every single one of them, from age 16 to 83, expressed feelings of excitement, envy, and nostalgia. We talked about their favorite song by Radiohead, the first time they heard them, sometimes the first time they saw them perform. Tony, toting his backpack full of hallucinogens, excitedly asked me “How was it?” only to cut me short by answering his own question: “Well, I know HOW it was, it was awesome, of course, but what did they play?”
You see, Radiohead has become almost a universal language for our culture. Everyone knows of them. Everyone respects them even if they don’t like their music. Radiohead is as much a part of our society as The Beatles were, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan.
As a side note, on my journey I started reading Disgrace by the South African author J.M. Coetzee, a staple of great contemporary literature. The novel revolves around the story of a disgraced South African professor of Communications, Communications being the department that swallowed his now-obsolete field of Classics and Modern Language. At the very beginning of the novel, the protagonist talks about how much he hates the premise that his new textbook ascribes to ‘language;’ “Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other” (Coetzee, 3-4). His opinion as to the function of language is the point of this digression. He believes that “the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul” (Coetzee, 4).
OK, enough citation of great literature. The reason why I reference Coetzee in this review, however, is to get at my point that music, and for me specifically music created by Radiohead, resonates with our souls and takes us to places making us feel emotions that we didn’t know we could.
Before I get into my analysis of the set list, I’d like to introduce the latest songs that Radiohead have released/played. Here is a list with a link to each song:
2. “Cut a Hole”
3. “The Daily Mail”
5. “The Butcher”
7. “Full Stop”
Check them all out, even the live recordings by audience members are decent. The Supercollider/The Butcher and The Daily Mail/Staircase EPs are EXCELLENT!
Alright now on to the setlist, which I will merely present and make a few comments on. There is not all that much to say about the concert. It is more of something that you have to experience. Because every song performed live is essentially on par with any in studio recording, questions of sound and enjoyment are not really applicable. Therefore the only things left to analyze are the progression of the mood of the setlist and the and how the crowd reacted to it.
Here we go! Radiohead opened with:
2. “There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere)”
As both “Bloom” and “There There.” are tracks that each begin with a low level of ambiance only to build in power and sound as they progress, they were perfect to open the concert with. The piano that begins “Bloom” was an excellent way to open the show as it very much embodies the frantic beauty that is recurrent in much of Radiohead’s music. “Bloom” builds in a way that is very different from “There There.” and other tracks by the band that contain more of a rock influence. It does not have normal, driving rhythms or heavy guitar riffs, but rather relies on an influx of distorted sound to facilitate it’s growth. In that way it is a great song to precede the tentative beginning of “There There.” which only builds into an epic cacophony of rock. The transition is also flawless because the timbre of Thom Yorke’s voice is very continuous between the end of “Bloom” and the beginning of “There There.”
Next up is:
3. “Kid A”
4. “Good Morning Mr. Magpie”
5. “The Gloaming”
This is the only portion of the setlist that I had any problem with. While it was a great segment, each of the songs complimented one another, and they are all incredible tracks, they are also lower energy level songs. In effect, this segment completely destroyed the momentum that “Bloom” and “There There.” built up, which left the crowd anxiously twitching, waiting for something to groove to. Don’t get me wrong, everyone in that crowd knew every lyric, every second of every song, and showed it by singing/mouthing the words, strumming invisible guitars, and proclaiming loudly the song titles to their more ignorant companions. So everyone loved these four songs. But, the anticipation of something more hard hitting was almost tangible in the cool summer air.
With “Lucky,” after the lull in tempo, the crowd went berserk. Everyone loves OK Computer, and “Lucky” is an absolutely incredible song. The energy was palpable, and it seemed as if the pace would only continue to pick up speed. However, next the band played:
8. “Like Spinning Plates”
In conjunction with the second segment, it seemed to be an odd choice to bookend “Lucky” with two slower tempo chunks of the set. However, “Like Spinning Plates” and “Identikit” compliment one another very well and it was good to hear something new from the band so early on in the night.
10. “15 Step”
There isn’t much to say. When the band started playing this song the crowd was loving it. I heard someone scream at the top of their lungs “It just makes so much sense. It is so good on the album, but it makes even more sense live!” To which I responded: “Quite.” It was an incredible live rendition and I could not stop myself from dancing. Nor did I want to stop.
Following “15 Step” with “Nude,” as opposed to following “Lucky” with “Like Spinning Plates” and “Identikit” was an excellent move by the band. It is slow, intimate, and beautiful song, and worked very well in tandem with the more jerky and fast paced “15 Step.” It also set the stage perfectly for the next segment, which was an explosive combination of sheer awesomeness:
12. “Lotus Flower”
13. “Paranoid Android”
Yeah. They did play those three songs in a row. So “Lotus Flower” and “Paranoid Android” back to back killed it. Freaking epic. Dipping into “Feral” after those two songs was also a great choice as it is one of the heavier songs on The King of Limbs, but also is only instrumental so it was a good way to slow things down for the ending of the first act of the night.
15. “Little by Little”
“Little by Little” is a pretty powerful song, but it is also semi-slow, which is great for a follow-up to “Feral” and also a good build for a sped up version of “Idioteque,” which as I said, was a great song to end the opening act of the set. It is a crowd favorite, from a lesser-played album, and also has a great build and an empty repetitious end to close the act.
17. “Give Up the Ghost”
19. “I Might Be Wrong” (Fast)
There is not much to say about the first encore. These three songs were beautiful. They were slow, cathartic, and interesting. “Staircase” was introduced as a new song, which was a good way to transition into an older song given a new spin from Amnesiac.
Needless to say, “Bodysnatchers” gave the crowd a reason to dance. It rocked and everyone was so fired up that there was no way that Radiohead could leave and stay gone because the crowd was going nuts.
21. “House of Cards” – joke
23. “Everything in its Right Place” (with “True Love Waits” intro)
Similarly to the first three songs of the first encore, the second encore took on the late-show ambient tenderness that works so well for Radiohead at their shows. This entire encore was absolutely incredible. It was a perfect way to end the night, leaving the crowd in a daze, in disbelief as to what they had just experienced.
The concert was everything that I had been anticipating for over a decade. I can’t say much more about my love for Radiohead, nor for their incredible talent. What I can say is that my true love certainly waited, and by the end of the night, everything did seem to be “in its right place.”