Radiohead / The Black Keys
Auditorium Theater; Chicago, IL

[06-20-06]

It's
hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since the release of OK Computer.
In 1997, Radiohead was just barely warmed-up to the obsessive fandom that has
since plagued them. Ironically, it was OK Computer's
paranoid, albeit disjointed critique of human interaction in a "postmodern"
technological landscape that engendered the very conditions it was lamenting — alienation, disconnection, simulacrum — which
nearly suffocated the band on its OK
Computer
tour. In 2006, it seems as though Radiohead has finally
reconciled its tumultuous relationship with being the center of attention, the
spectacle. This is not to say, however, that the members of Radiohead are
adhering to the absurd standards and expectations of stadium bands. While
enormously popular, Radiohead is no U2. It's nearing the opposite, in fact:
Radiohead is considering signing to an independent label, Thom Yorke's new
album was released on independent label XL, and rather than letting their
popularity dictate the venues, Radiohead booked a modest tour consisting
primarily of theaters.

Despite not romanticizing over Radiohead since Kid A, the prospect of
seeing them live in a theater was enticing. My last Radiohead concert
experience (at the HUGE Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI) pretty
much shattered the illusion that "transcendence" could happen in any context
if Radiohead's music was playing. The gigantic TV screens, the Budweiser
advertisements, the overpriced merchandise – it was all too much. This Chicago
show, however, was very refreshing, at least by Radiohead standards. True, it
was sad to see hardcore fans outside the venue giving metaphorical handjobs
for tickets, but it'd be sadder to see Radiohead make concessions for
something that could be whittled down to cultural capital.

When the band finally stepped on stage, the applause and cheers from the crowd
drowned out the elongated intro riff to "Airbag." Nostalgia flowed through my
body, and I was transported back to a fantasy world where Radiohead meant so
much to me, a time when they signified something much larger than life.
Despite this sort of static, unrealistic perception, the illusion was
thankfully punctured every now and again: there were at least two obvious
fuck-ups, and every time the roadies came out to tune instruments, swap
instruments, or even end songs (e.g., turning off the amps after "Everything
in Its Right Place"), I couldn't help but smirk, somewhat endearingly, at the
attempted seamlessness.

I was ecstatic when they played my two favorite Radiohead tunes: "Kid A" and
"The Tourist." And songs I've never really warmed-up to 100%, like "2+2=5" and
"Myxomatosis," were thrilling in a live setting. But most of all, I was
excited to hear the new songs. Surprisingly, the songs were accessible and
many of them danceable. With all the proclamations of reinventing themselves
and Hail to the Thief being their last "rock" album, you'd think the
band would go strictly "Treefingers" on us. But perhaps that'd be too easy for
Radiohead. Even the unreleased "Nude," which was once moody in the vein of
"Exit Music" and later more akin to "The Tourist," was somewhat danceable in
its latest manifestation.

What surprised me the most, though, was Thom Yorke. Not that I ever questioned
him as a performer, but it has been admittedly a long time since I've seen
such a huge rock band perform, and Thom reveled in the spotlight. His solo
performance of "I Want None of This" and his animated gestures during "The
National Anthem" reminded me of just how captivating he can be. Although he
coasts on a different wavelength than some of us, Thom was definitely feeding
off the energy of the crowd, and this sort of relationship is usually either
minimized or transparent when the role of artist and audience is so clearly
divided.

It's surreal watching Radiohead live, nowadays. The disseminated images I've
seen of Radiohead performing far outweigh the number of times I've actually
seen them in "reality," so this disjunction makes for a somewhat bizarre,
insular experience. All attempts at an "objective" account aside, I believe
Radiohead is doing a tremendous job coming to grips with their fame, and
they've handled their popularity with a reticent wink. Although their music is
no longer my cup of tea, per se (three days later, I went to the experimental
music fest End Times that truly blew my mind), Radiohead will still likely be
one of the main loci where my aesthetic biases, political allegiances, and
cultural critiques will be measured and articulated. As such, Radiohead has
once again truly opened my eyes in inspiring ways, and I've started listening
to their music with a new sense of vigor.

Setlist:

1. Airbag
2. 2+2=5
3. Where I End And You Begin
4. 15 Step
5. Kid A
6. Arpeggi
7. Videotape
8. Climbing Up The Walls
9. Street Spirit
10. Nude
11. I Might Be Wrong
12. No Surprises
13. All I Need
14. I Want None Of This
15. The National Anthem
16. Bangers 'n Mash
17. Everything In Its Right Place

Encore 1
18. My Iron Lung
19. The Bends
20. Myxomatosis
21. How To Disappear Completely

Encore 2
22. Down Is The New Up
23. The Tourist

  

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