Sunday, August 24, 2008

Radiohead Rule Outside Lands (+10 Songs They Didn't Play)

I considered holding off on writing about Radiohead's set on Friday night until after the first Outside Lands Music Festival ended on Sunday night, but the fact of the matter is that there is nothing that can top that single performance. Yes, the promoters of Outside Lands have some serious traffic congestion and concert layout issues to address in Golden Gate Park if they want to hold a festival like this ever again, seeing as how they tried to have narrow avenues for 10-20 thousand people to move quickly from band to band (many resorted to knocking down fences and walking through the park). Yes, the sound went out completely, twice during Radiohead's set (in the middle of "Airbag" and "All I Need"), but the performance was still flawless. I've waited years to see Radiohead live, and when the Outside Lands lineup was announced in the spring I was waiting on pins and needles until Friday night. I saw only a masterful performance, I can ignore any small glitches or hiccups along the way.

My dad and I frequently talk about the merits of music from his generation compared to mine. To be honest, I find that people claiming there was no good music after a certain calendar year to be completely and total idiots. Someone that says nothing after 1969 or 1979 was worth anything in music can be silenced with the idea that nothing good in music came after 1900, or after orchestra and symphony music stopped being the biggest music "scene." Those time limiting arguments are useless, what remains is that there are important musicians and bands for every generation. However you want to put it, band like the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the like are creative forces that outlive their time period. When I end up in a conversation about what band from my generation will live on, I always end up thinking of Radiohead.

There are bands that I personally like better than Radiohead, and there are albums and songs I connect to better than Radiohead's catalogue, and by that extension like better, but no other band in my experience has been more consistently incredible than the five men from Oxfordshire. They've mastered the art of deconstructing who they are as a band and building something new and fantastic every time. When I hear bands release new material they wrote in old recording sessions, I usually think it's of lesser quality. Where Radiohead is concerned, they hone songs over multiple album recording sessions, preparing it until it's just right in their minds, and then put it on a record where it fits right in as though its brand new.

The band might not play Pablo Honey live much anymore, and its pretty much their only album that rests below the stratosphere as far as quality is concerned, but I just can't name any other band that hasn't made a bad album. You can debate personal favorites all you want, but Radiohead is the most consistent band in the world right now. They are this generation's Beatles, thankfully without the mania.

It's at this point that I realize I haven't even talked about their set yet. They played a lot off of In Rainbows, which had only the small drawback of them not getting to play many songs off Hail to the Thief. Otherwise, they played a pretty perfect set. After the show on our ride back, I made a playlist of songs they didn't play in their set that I'd like to hear, and it was exactly the length of their set. There are no other bands of our time that can double a set list and maintain their quality in the way Radiohead can. It's astounding. Songs sprinkled in from their entire discography and were met by roars of applause at every turn. While their albums are so disparate, they seem to come together and complement each other perfectly when mixed together in a live set.

Their light show on this tour is just incredible. They performed surrounded in what seemed like a prison cell of fluorescent lights that turned all different colors throughout the set. When rain imagery was necessary, little blue light streaked down the bulbs to imitate rain, during "Fake Plastic Trees" they turned green, during "The National Anthem" they turned red, white, and blue. The set was an all-engrossing experience for sight and sound. The two giant screens on either side of the stage were fixed camera perspectives from places like their piano, the bass drum, Thom Yorke's microphone, and gave an other-worldly feel to the performance.

They mixed songs that bled into each other perfectly, hitting loud highs with "Airbag" or "Bodysnatchers" and diving low with thumping beats on "Videotape" "Idioteque" and "Everything in Its Right Place." It was especially wonderful to hear "Talk Show Host," one of my personal favorites from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. I was more and more excited every time a song started and I recognized that I was actually seeing the band play it live with sensory overload courtesy of the lights. I've been to concerts and loved them before, but this was one time where the experience of the live setting outweighed the daunting quality of the music itself.

It took a while to get to Golden Gate Park, even longer to get situated for Radiohead, and even longer to get back out of the park to our car after the show. It was a completely overpriced ticket considering how poorly handled the festival seemed to be by the promoters, and the layout of the fields was far too small for the number of people that needed to move freely around the park. But in light of the two hours dropped on the Bay Area by Radiohead, none of those complaints matter, I'm nothing but ecstatically happy about that performance. I now will be able to say I have seen the greatest band of my generation, and I'll do it with a huge smile of my face remembering just how great it was.

Set List:
15 Step
There There
All I Need
Talk Show Host
National Anthem
The Gloaming
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Karma Police
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Exit Music (For A Film)
Pyramid Song
You and Whose Army?
Paranoid Android
Fake Plastic Trees
Everything In Its Right Place

And just for kicks, here are the 10 best songs they didn't play on Friday night:

"The Bends" - They played some straight up rockers off of In Rainbows, but before they went down the rabbit hole, this was as hard rock as they got for me.

"My Iron Lung" - I waited and waited for this song's intro to begin in the dark, but it never came.

"Electioneering" - One of my favorites from OK Computer.

"Kid A" - Oh how I wanted to hear those little intro piano sounds, followed by miraculous electric blips and Yorke's tweaked out vocal track.

"2+2=5" - The first Radiohead track I really remember knowing was them, as well as the first album I purchased. It's a longtime personal favorite, and the 1984 reference and feel of the entirely of HtTT strikes a chord with me.

"Sit Down, Stand Up" - They didn't really have time for a lot of HtTT material, but man would it have been cool to see.

"Backdrifts" - The beginning swooshing electronic sounds could've gone with another track from the album, "The Gloaming." To me they sort of play as the good/evil electronic sounds on the album, with "Gloaming" sounding menacing but "Backdrifts" inviting.

"Go To Sleep" - It could've worked right in to the part in their set with "Karma Police" and "Jigsaw" because they had the acoustic guitar going.

"Where I End and You Begin" - I love this album so much, it's a pity they didn't play more of it, but when you have so much great material there's no way they could play everything.

"House of Cards" - The only song from In Rainbows I wanted to hear that they didn't play.

Honorable Mention: "Creep" - You know they're not playing it, but why not put it down at the bottom of the wishlist?

Well, there you have it. Radiohead in San Francisco. I guess I'll just have to desperately try to see them again in hopes of hearing some of these 10.

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