My sister Allison’s all-time favorite musical act is the Indigo Girls. I believe it has been this way ever since my brother first bought her a copy of Swamp Ophelia back when we were in high school. Though she is not a huge music fan, Allison does appreciate great music and it seems that every year she is treated to a live performance by her favorite band. The Indigo Girls have seemed to make it a point to tour consistently throughout the years and though she does not keep up with music as much as others, Allison’s eyes light up when the tour dates are announced and she usually makes it a point to get herself some tickets to share with some friends. I have always been envious of her because my favorite band is not so charitable with their touring and I certainly do not get to see them on a yearly basis, which is why when I do get the opportunity to see Radiohead, it’s a full-blown “Stop The Presses!!!!!” moment and I do whatever I can to see them.
My last experience seeing Radiohead live was in the spring of 2008 in northern Virginia. I had traveled to the D.C. area to interview for some jobs and my trip had just so happened to coincide with a Radiohead show and though I had seen them in Tampa just a week or two before this date, it was a given that I would see them again. I bought some tickets for me and some friends and got all kinds of amped to see these guys twice in the span of a few weeks. However, this turned out to be one of the most miserable concert-going experiences of my life as the heavens opened up that night and let out a torrential downpour of the largest raindrops I had ever seen before. Roads were flooded and traffic was jammed for miles as thousands of fans tried to eek their way to the venue. The temperature was in the 50’s but with the rain it might as well have been in the 20’s. My friend Jon and I arrived about 45 minutes into their set and ran to the lawn where our tickets indicated we should be as we sloshed around in puddles of water and mud. It didn’t matter; we were going to see Radiohead.
That enthusiasm lasted about thirty minutes as neither one of us was able to enjoy the show. I don’t care who you’re seeing when you’re that wet and cold and miserable, you don’t want to see anyone. We agreed it would be best to just cut our losses and leave and proceeded to the car where we waited about an hour and a half as the traffic trying to leave the venue was even worse than it was getting in. I don’t regret trying to go to this show or any decision we made before, during, or after as this is my favorite band. They don’t tour that much, and I will always take any opportunity to see them. Having said all that, the experience itself was horrible.
This time around, I found myself in a much more comfortable position. Tour dates were announced and they would be making their first stops in Florida. It was either Miami or Tampa for me and I went with Tampa so that I could have at least one other person to go with. My friend Adam from grad school and his buddy Charley were going and were kind enough to pick up a ticket for me. It was settled. The mid week Leap Year show it would be.
The shows on this tour promoting their latest release The King of Limbs are all in indoor arenas, which is atypical for them. I had never seen them indoors in the previous five shows I had seen. I was particularly excited to see them play the songs from the new album. Though it is not one of my favorite studio albums of theirs, I have seen live performances on TV and they seemed to sound so much better than the album. There is so much percussion with this record that the band had to hire another drummer (Portishead’s Clive Deamer) to tag along for the tour. And even though there are a lot of electronic sounds in the album, the band replicates them all live. If there is any recordings played, they’re recorded and looped back right there on stage. It’s a live performance of an in-depth and complicated catalogue and the band pulls it off better than anyone I have seen.
When we got to the venue, we grabbed a beer and headed for the floor. We missed the opening act but were still there early enough to establish ourselves about 20 yards from the stage and shortly the band came out around 8:45. One of the great things about a Radiohead show is the amazingly brilliant light show you get with the performance. For this tour, the band has twelve huge flat screens that are hung up by some cables and with each song they play, the screens are moved and shifted in different arrangements. There are cameras set up in strategic areas that cover not only a close up of each band member but also of the instruments they play. There are also six widescreens connected to each other at the very top of the stage that includes similar images. Behind the band is a wall of lights that dance and bounce with the beat of the music. For each song, there is also a different color scheme chosen, each one as bright and luminous as the other. Midway through the show some dude made his way up to where we were standing and was dancing like a madman, bouncing into people all around him. He soon started apologizing and admitted he was on an acid trip. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for him. It was sensory overload even for the sober.
The band played mostly songs from their last two albums but included ones from every studio album with the exception of Pablo Honey which is no surprise. The only song I’ve seen them play from that album is “Creep”, which to me is a little sad as that album has some great songs on it. But it’s nothing new. Ever since Kid A came out in 2000, the band has relied heavily on the more electronic and ambient songs during their live performances.
Overall, the crowd was great and very energetic. With the opening chords to each song, everyone cheered out in approval which is totally understandable. They just don’t have any bad songs. While that fact is great to know when you go see a live show, it’s also bound to end up letting you down. There’s just always going to be a number of songs you’re dying to hear but you never do. I knew I’d hear most of the songs off of Limbs but was excited to hear them play “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, “Reckoner”, “Idioteque”, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", "Karma Police", and “There There” which I believe was the first time I ever saw four drummers playing together during a live performance. We were also treated to a brand new song “Identikit” which was great addition. The show lasted about an hour and 45 minutes and included two encores. Throughout the entire performance I could not help but grin from ear to ear as my heroes played some of my most favorite songs right in front of me. It was phenomenal.
There is something special about seeing your all-time favorite artist perform live. I’ve seen hundreds of great performances over the years but none will even come close to the sheer elation I feel at a Radiohead show. As I mentioned earlier, the Avett Brothers put on some amazingly energetic shows, and the Lemonheads show as a great trip down memory lane. But there is just something otherworldly and surreal about seeing a Radiohead show for me and I don’t think that will ever change. I’m not quite sure if Allison feels the same way when she sees the Indigo Girls, but if her feelings are even close to that, she is a very lucky person. As for me, I’ll just have to cherish this latest show until I see them again, which is a little sad until I remember that they’re headlining Bonnaroo in June. It’s quite clear that the concert gods are spoiling me in the first half of 2012.