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Radiohead In Atlanta by Diana Ostrow

Diana Ostro worked with me on another project in 2005. Here are her remembrances of all things Radiohead…

Sitting at the theater at MSG and watching my favorite band Radiohead, I feel this strange and different emotion flowing through my body: Is it love? Sweat? Desire? Agita? Here is Thom Yorke -moments from releasing “The Eraser” his first “don’t call it a solo album” solo album, warbling away at newish-old, and unreleased songs, I’ve identified the emotion I’m feeling! Yes! It’s boredom.

It wasn’t always like this. My love affair with Radiohead began on a trip to Atlanta back in 2000. Radiohead had just come out with their fourth studio album, Kid A. I came to them a little late in the game. I had obviously heard of them when they blew up around 1994, my junior year of High School, when the single “Creep” came out. Back then though, because I was a lazy teenager without a job, I didn’t have much in the way of money to buy CD’s, so the first 3 albums slipped by me, except for the few singles they played on the radio. So back to that night in Atlanta, a very close friend of mine had moved down there right after he graduated from college. When he was living in Brooklyn, or when I’d visit in Atlanta, on occasion, just for fun, we would take loads of drugs, stay up all night, listen to music, play guitar and sing our hearts out. I had picked up Radiohead’s Kid A out of curiosity before the trip but decided to wait to listen to it until that night, and I’m so glad I did. It was definitely an album to listen to under the influence. For me, the record took a few plays for me to declare that I liked it, over declaring, “this is a little weird”. The computerized beeps and tings mixed in with the guitars and drums were new to me. I remember my friend saying “This sounds like what people will be listening to in the future”. I had read that Kid A is actually a concept album about the first cloned human. I guess his statement would be pretty accurate then. Regardless of the theme of later CD’s I feel like it’s also a good way to describe any of the music made after Kid A as well: futuristic.

After that night in Atlanta, I back tracked with Radiohead’s catalog. I decided if I liked Kid A, I must like the ones that came before. The earlier I went back, the more I fell in love with the band. While I appreciated the talent it took to make a record like Kid A, I much preferred the melodic garage-y sound of the 2 first albums, especially their sophomore album The Bends. Song for song, I believe it to be their best album. Pablo Honey, their first album is great, but it’s plainly obvious they’re rough around the edges on this one. The album came out in 1991 and has a Sex Pistols on Dramamine feel. Their 3rd album considered by some super non-scientific magazine polls to be “The Best Album of all Time” is called OK Computer. Ok Computer is when Radiohead starting with the experimenting. They brought out their computers and various other non-instruments to combine it with guitars, drums and bass to make, yes, to make a great CD, but what they also gained with this record was notoriety. They were the band that took a chance, stepped away from the norm of what was on the radio, and from the sound of their first 2 albums. Rarely can a band change their sound and have it come out as a masterpiece rather than a failure. After OK Computer, there was no way they could go back to their simpler sound. From now on, Radiohead would be a different beast. They would become a band that people studied furiously. I believe this is the album that turned Radiohead into a band you casually listened to to a band that you worshipped. Radiohead fans would pore over lyrics and tabs trying to just make sense of it all but loving every minute of it. Radiohead’s fans have more of an underground type feel. If you love them, you know every song, every lyric, and every guitar, or non-guitar rif. The two last studio albums, Amnesiac (which is an extension of Kid A) and Hail to the Thief (A musical “fuck you” to George W Bush) delve more into the obscure beeps and blips, with little emphasis on the “rules” of music. In a lot of songs, the verse-chorus-verse-bridge equation does not even come into play. The conventional sound of a song is completely ignored. This was met with equal parts adoration and contempt. I once heard a reviewer say that Thom Yorke could take a shit in a paper bag, record it, and release it and the fans would go crazy for it. Kind of a colorful statement, but also pretty accurate. I could never categorize it as bad, but for me, none of it has been as good as The Bends, album #2.

I’ve seen Radiohead 4 times. It was amazing every single time. When I heard they were coming around in June, I absolutely had to get tickets. This tour was to debut some new music which will be on their next record which has no definite release date. While Radiohead could easily sell out Madison Square Garden, which I’ve seen them in 3 times, they decided to play smaller venues on this tour. They were playing the Theatre at MSG which holds considerably less people than the actual garden. Getting tickets would be a chore. Sure enough, the on sale date, May 5th came and went without little old me snagging a pair. I tried online, on the phone and later that week I even went to the ticketmaster outlet at Tower Records. It looked like I was out of luck unless I was willing to pay about $300 for a pair. Was I willing? Yes I was. I bought the tickets from and my reluctant boyfriend agreed to pay half and come with me. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I hate going to shows when I don’t know the music. A good portion of this show was all new stuff. Sure, I’m a superfan so I had a few crappy bootlegs from previous shows on the tour, but I hadn’t listened to them enough to even identify them in concert. Our seats were all the way back, maybe about 10 rows from the last row and the sound was awful. The bass was thumping but I couldn’t feel it. In the past when I’ve seen them, the whole place erupts with energy for the whole set. Not so much this time around. I’m a much bigger fan of the older stuff and I love when they mix the old and new in concert together. At this show, not only did they play unreleased new songs, but they played songs from mostly newer albums. There is one song I look forward to at every show I’ve been to, Idioteque. It’s a high engery, crazy kind of song that everyone gets into, but there was some kind of technical error when the song started so they had to stop and start the song over again. What a let down. I got tired of standing and sat down for most of the 2nd half of the show. I was upset about the $150 wasted and the $150 my boyfriend spent because he’s not even such a huge fan. But If I had to do it all over again, I would… You just never know how the setlist will be. I guess every band can have an off night. For Radiohead June 13th was definitely it. Some friends of ours went the next night, had the same crappy seats but a kickass setlist and said it was one of the best concerts he’s ever seen. You win some, you lose $150.

Considering all I’ve said about preferring old Radiohead to new Radiohead, I’m actually kind of surprised myself to say that I really really dig Thom Yorke’s “solo” Album, the Eraser. I thought, ok, I have to pick it up because it’s Thom Yorke, and I will listen to it over and over again and do my duty to all things Radiohead. But I picked it up, and I listened to it and I immediately loved it. Still mostly computers and synthesizer rather than guitars and bass, but the beats are fun! The words almost always don’t make any s
ense to me but the lyrics are never what mattered with Radiohead. My favorite song on the album is called Atoms for Peace. Thom sings in his surprisingly beautiful falsetto to what sounds like the same 3 notes on a bass, and muffled thumping sounds. I think why I love the song so much is because this is where Thom shows his chops. I’ve heard him sing on every other Radiohead song but this one is simply very pretty. It’s a very plain song, but he sings it beautifully. It’s not a very long album and the songs are short and sweet. My only gripe about the album? Thom said in interviews he took a lot of thrown out beats from Radiohead’s jam sessions to make this album. I just have to ask, why not make a Radiohead album then? I guess Thom really had something to say. I guess if I understood what the lyrics meant, I’d understand why he put out a solo album.

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