Radiohead / Liars
Nissan Pavilion; Bristow, VA

If you’ve lived long enough in the DC-area, you will hear that the Nissan Pavilion sucks. When Radiohead first announced they would be playing this “shed” to the southwest of DC, a collective groan must've shot out of fansites and hipster message boards across the region. I have never been to the venue, but I have frequented my share of shitty places. So I bought tickets, wondering what could be that much worse here than any other corporate-owned amphitheater.

Radiohead and DC, historically, have never jibed. A show at Bull Run had to be canceled due to flooding, and lightning struck during a performance at RFK Stadium. I didn’t live in the area during those weather-related disasters, but little did I know I would be involved in yet another Radiohead vs. the weather fiasco this time around. As I left the house, a deluge of rain bucketed down and water cascaded in rivers down streets. Thankfully, I didn't possess a lawn seat. Besides, I probably wouldn’t have sat in the lawn anyhow. I’m one of those “Oh yeah, I saw Radiohead in a club 11 years ago for $15” kind of guys. Nothing but good seats for me to see this band.

I live 78 miles from the venue, so it took over three hours to get there. The rain continued to hurtle down. When we finally arrived at the venue (via a two-lane road!), it suddenly dawned on me that my seat was a mile away. Long story short, I was drenched by the time I sat down -- and so was everyone else around me. It was less than 50-degrees out, and Liars hadn’t even gone on yet. This would be a long time to wait in wet, cold clothes. Of course, I could continue with stories about the two-hour wait to get out of the parking lot, the flooded road closures, the drunk girl peeing in a cup next me in the car, but this is a concert review. Let’s focus on the music.

Liars came on promptly at 7:30. The amphitheater was still more or less empty, but that didn’t stop the band from turning in a cracker performance. As Angus Andrews prowled about the stage, his massive hands waving about in a blur, the freezing crowd danced along, desperate to find a beat to warm up to. Highlights of the 45-minute set included “Plaster Casts of Everything” and “Houseclouds.” The guys on my left had never heard Liars nor did it seem many of the others who responded with polite applause. It is easy to forget just how mainstream Radiohead is, even though they manage to defy expectations with each and every release.

Someone mentioned that the rain would only add atmosphere to Radiohead’s music. And it's true: their songs are rife with dread, and some of their crystalline piano ballads are perfect for a rainy day. I was intent on ignoring the cold in order to focus on the music. Amid a sea of beams that hung from the roof of the stage like metal stalactites (or the world’s biggest example of vertical blinds), Radiohead finally took the stage to thunderous applause. Behind us, a sea of umbrellas swallowed up the lawn, but the crowd under shelter was relatively sparse. Thom Yorke, dressed in a red T-shirt with grey hoodie welcomed “the wet people.” Then the band launched into the dirge “All I Need,” from its outstanding new album In Rainbows. Filled with looming synths and a menacing bassline, the song’s lingering intensity set the tone for the evening.

It takes something quite powerful to lift a shivering, soaked writer out of his saturated jeans, and as Yorke’s warm, fragile voice filled the amphitheater, I was taken away to someplace else. The band then transitioned into “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” and as the tempo picked up, the crowd began to dance.

What amazed me the most about the 25-song set was just how clear everything sounded. Yorke’s vocals swooped and soared on ballads such as “Lucky” and “Nude.” But it wasn’t only a grim affair. On faster songs such as “15 Step” and “Myxomatosis,” Yorke danced about the stage, his scruffy head twisting in all directions. Jonny Greenwood met Yorke’s intensity as he freaked out with guitar, synth and who knows what else.

Midway through the set, Yorke said, “We know how tough today has been for you guys and, uh, sorry.” The band then launched into OK Computer’s “Paranoid Android.” Whether or not he aimed the “Rain down, rain down/ Come on rain down on me” refrain to the freezing groundlings below, the moment was chilling. As bright blue and red lights reflected off the metal beams and Ed O’Brien’s unnerving backing vocals poured from the stage, the moment turned magical. Even a hardened concert-goer like me felt the magic.

There were just so many high points: the spastic paranoia of “Idioteque,” the sweeping beauty of “Reckoner.” By the time the band finished its first set with the rollicking “Bodysnatchers,” I didn’t think that it could get any better. But it did.

They returned for the first of two encores, with the haunting “Like Spinning Plates,” soon to be followed by “Optimistic” and “Karma Police.” Next came “Go Slowly,” a track off the bonus LP of In Rainbows. This fragile ballad felt perfect against the rain, its melody a menacing, twisted music box, Yorke’s vocals both ethereal and enveloping. After closing the first encore with “Planet Telex,” Yorke returned to inform us that many concert-goers never made it to the show. Some of the local roads had been washed away by the rain. The band offered up “Fake Plastic Trees” in dedication to the unfortunates who never arrived.

The concert ended with a raucous “The National Anthem” and the gentle “House of Cards.” Yorke and company eased us out of the show cooing “I don’t want to be your friend/ I just want to be your lover” before singing about collapsing infrastructure and lascivious key parties. Then the band retreated to drier quarters, leaving us in silence to face the rhythm and fury of the rain.

Photo: [kubacheck]

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