I first fell in love with Radiohead when I was very young. When commercial radio still mattered. "Creep" was a song that I first heard on the FM dial. And it spoke to me as a teenager. Just like singer, Thom Yorke sang, “ I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here”, I immaturely agreed. I never felt I fit in...anywhere.
At such an impressionable age and being so enamored by music, it made sense to go out and purchase their debut LP, Pablo Honey.
It wasn't until a few years later when I was up late night watching MTV, that I really fell hard for the band. "She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing, my fake plastic love" Yorke sang on “Fake Plastic Trees” as I was going through my first real break up. It was as if he and I had been through the same relationship. Maybe he got me. I went out the next day and bought their second LPThe Bends and never looked back. Every album seemed to get progressively better. It wasn't long before I realized that Radiohead was my favorite band... of all-time. More than the Beatles and the Stones, more than Nirvana and Pearl Jam, more than Tribe and Outkast, more than ANYONE.
I would make it my goal to see them live every chance I could. I vowed to spend whatever was necessary to make that happen. One time, I dropped $350 for two tickets at the Tower Theatre in 2005 just so that my girlfriend could experience them, and hopefully become a believer too. She did.
Over subsequent years, I've managed to be lucky enough to score all tickets at face value - which was the case for the show this past Friday at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. How thrilled I was in the moment the seats popped up on the Ticketmaster website! 3 minutes to decide if I want them?! Hell yes!!!
Just like every other time I have seen the band, the weeks leading up to the show were filled with much excitement. And as usual, about seven days before the show, I started playing their tunes obsessively. Come the day of the show, I was acting like a kid on Christmas. And this is nothing new - it’s been this way for 14 years. The only difference between the present and the past - such as the first time I saw them in 1998 - is that I attempt to hold the excitement at bay by playing, not OK Computer, The Bends or Kid A, but all the obscure b-sides that came from that time period and on.
Hail to the Thief in anticipation of the seamless flow of In Rainbows. I bought The Bends even though Pablo Honey was filled with second-rate, label-pushed songs. In that case, I kept the faith because of the potential of a tune like "Lurge". And don’t get me wrong - my point is simply that any weakness has always been accounted for and in the end, their repertoire is overwhelmingly impressive.
However, last weekend, something went amiss. Maybe it's been coming for a little while now? But upon seeing Radiohead live for the tenth time, I couldn't help but feel, well.... bored. And unlike other slightly downtrodden moments in my history as it relates to the band, I cannot necessarily blame it on the newer material.
I pre-ordered the collector's edition version of The King of Limbs just as I had In Rainbows. And on the day it arrived even though I had been listening to the MP3s that came with the purchase for weeks, I was excited. Why? Because I liked the album. Because I always like Radiohead.
So what happened this past Friday night at Prudential Center when the band played for the sold out crowd of New Yorkers in New Jersey? Well, frankly? Not much.
The show opened and closed just as you would imagine. "Bloom" from TKOL was met with screams and cheers. The band had most people captivated. Hooked. Ready to be mind blown. Contrary to popular belief, the show closed not with a cover of an REM tune but just a portion of their song "The One I Love" leading into staple Radiohead tune "Everything In Its Right Place" from the classic, Kid A. Everyone seemed placated. Happy even. But not I. I felt that the in betweens just weren't good enough. And actually I have seen that version of "Everything Its Right Place" so many times that I could have left the Prudential Center before it even started and still have known what transpired on that stage.
It wasn't all bad. No, sir. The places I found myself most excited were places where I was surprised. Newish track, "The Daily Mail" was gorgeous. "Pyramid Song" from 2001’sAmnesiac was a nice addition to the set that wasn't part of the previous night. And "Separator" from The King of Limbs was the highlight of the night for me. It did something that used to happen often at Radiohead shows for me - I fell in love with a song that I only just kinda liked before seeing it performed. This happened with "Lurgee" in 1998. And "Idioteque" in 2001.
For example, two songs that I always love seeing live were played, "Idioteque" and "Paranoid Android". And they had me on the edge of my seat at the beginning. Usually, those two tracks can make up for anything I may have been hoping for but wasn't played. But not this time...
Passion is something that has kept Radiohead relevant for a long time. And yet, there was no passion in either of these songs. On "Idioteque", singer Thom Yorke, did almost none of his trademark dancing. And an error by guitarist Johnny Greenwood had Yorke shaking his head and muttering "fuck it" before walking off stage. On the long time favorite "Paranoid Android", Yorke’s vocals felt disengaged and almost mocking. He even skipped a verse, apologizing for the blunder with a mere "It's been a long night". Now I've seen Yorke make mistakes before. In the past, he's started those songs over. Needless to say, this time, he did not.
To put things into a little bit of perspective, I actually went to the bathroom during "Feral" fromTKOL. I've never gone to the bathroom at a Radiohead show before. Not ever.
I suppose it could just me that's bored. I mean, this was my tenth show. But the performers, themselves, seemed bored as well. I will note that, in Yorke’s defense, he did mention that he wasn’t feeling well. Now, I don’t want to be overly critical, but when I am not feeling well at work, I still have to perform... or I lose my job.
Let's face it. Everything is in its right place for a Radiohead demise.
Radiohead now, seems ok with the status quo. I can't believe I'm about to say this but, - Maybe they should take a cue from another 90s rock band. Though I haven't been a fan since 1996,Pearl Jam does it right. They play a different set every night. And they play it passionately. Something Radiohead is forgetting to do.
So you've heard it hear first. This is Radiohead's last tour. Or it will be the last time that I ever see them.
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