Finally, the day arrived. I packed my car and headed West.
Venue: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Status: Sold Out
Opening Band: Other Lives
Main Act: Radiohead
Time: 7:30pm, 3/9/2012
As it happened, Adam's roommate and father are Radiohead fans, too. This was to be their fourth time seeing Radiohead, and they were as excited as Adam and I were. So the four of us pulled into the arena to a vast and eclectic crowd. Crowd isn't a good word. How about horde. There were, in my rough estimate, around 15-20 thousand people there. We took our seats, above the mass of bodies on the floor, and cozied in. Other Lives, a band I'd never heard of, soon came out and the night began.
Other Lives reminds me of something like Devotchka or Beirut mixed with some good ole Americana. Jesse Tabish, lead vocals and some instruments, sounds similar to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but the music is a different animal altogether. Other Lives was big, in number and in sound. A quintet of multi-talented members, Other Lives made beautiful music so hypnotic and energetic that I would gladly pay to see them as the main act. If you've never heard them, check out the videos for "For 12" and "Tamer Animals." Pretty nifty, eh? And the songs aren't too shabby either, I think.
By 8:30ish we were all ready for Radiohead, and anon the band came. Bursting forth in applause and glorious lights, they launched straight into "Bloom," a song off The King of Limbs, its outer-space like piano licks reverberating through the air with the steady drums pushing the song along. "Airbag," one of my favorites, from OK Computer, came up next, even though the official setlist pointed that "15 Step" was to be the second song. (I notice that I refer to several Radiohead songs as "one of my favorites," which isn't necessarily revealing much, or it reveals a lot.) As it happened, "15 Step" came third, with the rest of the setlist following as planned.
One of the coolest things about the show was the stage setup. As you can see from the picture, there were these screens hanging down above the stage. To me, they looked like pieces of a shattered mirror dangling. There were cameras set up throughout that would capture and display random band members in action. In addition, these screens were mobile and moved with each song, sometimes reflecting out into the crowd, sometimes flat down on the stage. Additionally, the giant LED screens as a backdrop looped beautiful, almost psychedelic colors and patterns about, adding an extra layer of complexity to a list of already complex songs.
Of the twenty-three songs played, most came from the band's newer albums. The entire King of Limbs was played except for "Codex," and while I like this album, it sounded even better live. I had told Adam it'd be nice to hear "Myxomatosis" and "Idioteque," and I was lucky enough to get both, with the latter being the final song of the evening. Apparently I am not alone in loving "Idioteque" as one of the band's greats, as the entire crowd seemed to be singing along with Thom through the refrain, offering up a frenetic chorus of definite armageddon.
The possible highlight of the night came with "Karma Police." This was the song that turned me on to Radiohead. Something about its wonderful minor piano sounds and the mesmerizing lyrics. "Karma police, arrest this man. He talks in maths, he buzzes like fridge, he's like a detuned radio." As it goes, Thom has probably sang this song thousands of times, and yet on Friday night, he forgot the lyrics. From the onset he mixed up the order of the first verse, but never fear, the crowd picked up the slack and belted the tune. Chagrined but good humored, Thom continued, getting to the end of the second verse and singing "This is what you get... when you forget the words." Needless to say, we all cheered.
One thing that I usually enjoy in live shows is banter between the band or some sort of engaging the audience. Maybe it's because I wear rose colored glasses when looking at Radiohead, but Thom kept the conversation to a minimum, and I was completely okay with it. They were there to entertain us, play their songs, and showcase their talents. There was no need to introduce a song or talk about its history. The crowd, I think, didn't need this stuff, as many of us were probably very familiar with Radiohead's music.
Alas, the night dwindled down, though the excitement lingered through the double encores. Once "Idioteque" finished, the stage lights came up and we all exited en masse, moving as independent bodies forming one large body. My ears buzzed and I had an impression that I was glowing, but we all moved rather silently out of the building, out into the cold, windy breeze of a late Winter's night. In the car I asked Noel and his dad how they ranked this performance with the others they'd seen. Both said that this was the best.
I drove four hours to see the band, but I would have driven more. The show was amazing. The music was wonderful. The audience was responsive and lively, but reflective and respectful. I was a little bummed that "Paranoid Android" and/or "Climbing up the Walls" weren't played, but on the other hand, I now have an excuse to see them again, if they ever come close enough. I'm glad to have finally saw the band, and I'm ready to see them again.
Note: The images used in this post were all found through Twitter and Google+. All were shared publicly, and I claim no ownership to them. If you want to find more, search the #radioheadstlouis hashtag. Also, there is a 27-minute video of several of the songs is available to watch here, if you're interested. And one last note. Radiohead has recorded an Austin City Limits show, but there's no date yet for when it will air. Keep it in mind.