Radiohead At Santa Barbara Bowl, Tuesday April 11th 2017
‘I loved your review, but you over estimate them’, told me Iman last August, after reading my review of Radiohead’s concert at the Shrine Auditorium… At this point, I realize I can’t be completely objective when I write about Radiohead, they are the reason why I still get excited about concerts, they made me drive 200 miles on a weekday evening and I swear I would not do that for any other band that exists.
A few days before their double appearance at Coachella, Radiohead played at Santa Barbara Bowl… on a Tuesday night, but I knew I had to go. I first didn’t think I would be able to get a ticket, but a miracle occurred and I get one, a nosebleed ticket, a seat on the last row at the top of the bowl, although it wasn’t so bad as the venue is much smaller than its Hollywood equivalent, 4,500 seats versus 17,500 seats . Anyway, how could I have complained, so many people could not get a ticket!
It was a glorious and stressful day, glorious because I was seeing Radiohead again, but stressful because the band was supposed to take the stage very early, at 7:30 pm, and the drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara took me 2 full hours with the evening traffic. I arrived there just in time, found my seat around 7:20, whereas the famous sextet ended up on stage a few minutes before 8 pm, but an hour earlier, I was biting my nails on the 101, worried I would miss the beginning of the show. I never saw the opening band, but I was there, standing tall on my seat – it was the last row, so I was not bothering anyone – when Thom Yorke, the Greenwood brothers Colin and Jonny, drummers Phil Selway and Clive Deamer, and Ed O’Brien took the stage with the dreamy heartbreaking melancholia of ‘Daydreaming’
I can’t describe the details of their moves on stage as I did when I saw them at the Shrine, I was in the pit in August, I was now too far, and they looked like tiny figurines bathing in bright light, successively white, yellow, red, green and blue. The whole stage was taking a different shape according to the mood of a song, I was not able to see the details, but I was at another level of consuming a show. It wasn’t Thom, Jonny and me anymore, as it was at the Shrine, it was me, the crowd and this living entity down there. I was regarding the entire bowl like a collective experience, the stage was booming, exploding, crying, moaning, and if Thom York’s plaintive croon was very clear, he was often not an individual human being, he was just one part of the whole experience, one ant in the busy colony below, a colony that was actually producing very familiar music.
They did some of their most classic songs, ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, ‘Let Down’, ‘Climbing Up the Walls’, ‘The National Anthem’, ‘Everything in Its Right Place’, ‘How to Disappear Completely’, because at this point, I have listened to ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Kid A’, way too many times that I can admit, but they were also brushing their entire catalogue, a few from ‘In Rainbows’, from ‘Amnesiac’, ‘Hail to the Thief’, even a song from ‘The Bends’, and four songs from their least popular album ‘The King of Limbs’! it wasn’t ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ tour anymore, although they started by three songs of this new album and continued with 3 more later.
Being in the pit gives you the chance to brush elbows with the most devoted fans, the ones who know they are up for another religious epiphany, but sitting on a nosebleed ticket is another story, ‘How does this compare to the show you saw at the Shrine?’ asked me the guy next to me in the middle of a song… ‘What? It was very different!’ I replied, cutting dry the conversation… Please, don’t talk to me during a song, don’t ask me to explain this now! This moment is special, precious, unique, it may never happen again, with this full moon blooming over us and Thom’s voice climbing this dark starry sky, with a few trembling falsettos and alterations which sounded like a remix of his own songs… was he even slightly off keys at some points?
From my seat, the lighning of the stage was magical, from rays of bright lights coming from each musician, to a huge circular spiderweb of light looking like a giant sun, while a little cam oriented toward Thom’s face was projecting a giant inquisitor eye (his good one) on the background during ‘You and Whose Army?’.
Man-bun Thom seemed to be in great mood, he sort of joked all night, making funny voices, or were these curious sneers pre-recorded fake laughs? He was mumbling in the mic, half for himself, half for us to hear, he wanted to be funny in a very Yorke way, He changed his keyboard as other musicians change their guitars, ‘Bring me another piano,’ he said between two songs he performed bent on a different piano. Meanwhile the two Greenwood brothers seemed to be crouched on guitars on each side of the stage. At this point, they look like the most efficient band in the business, everything is literally at the right place, while everything occurs at the right pace, Thom and his little dance around the mic are the center of attraction, but he even got so excited during ‘Myxomatis; that he dropped his mic, but caught it as soon as we heard the noise.
If the bowl has a curfew at 10, the band nevertheless managed to come back for two long encores, adding to this long list of songs, the lo-fi vulnerable repetitiveness of Give Up the Ghost’, performed with only two guitars slowly building up into an emotional chorus of voices, followed by the beauty of ‘Nude’ and the surprise of ‘The Bends’ ‘Planet Telex’… I was with the stars, up there at the top of the bowl, very high in the music (the acoustic of that small bowl is fantastic), very high in feelings, and the show became so dense on emotions, so complex and varied with sonic explosions during many songs, tears in the eyes during others… ‘All I Need’, ‘Present Tense’,… ‘The Numbers’… my god, the list went on and on and we could discuss ad nauseam about each song’s special place in your personal pantheon of favorite Radiohead tracks… I can’t say there was a highlight, Radiohead can play any song and I will be delighted, and I am saying this knowing they played four songs of ‘ King of Limbs’… not my favorites, however, this ‘Give up the Ghost’ rendition may have made me change my mind. They closed with the threatening ‘Bodysnatchers’ and if ‘Paranoid Android’ was also on the setlist, they probably cut it out because of the curfew, however 25 songs is s good run and I have read they have really varied their setlist since they have started this last tour.
I can’t be objective when it comes to Radiohead, the layers of their music and the subtle variations they keep adding to their songs – like an obsessive loop at the end of ‘How to Disappear Completely’, or the semi remix of an old classic – keep bringing pure joy to a live experience, they are the perfect reason why I go to live shows, and last night they vibrated beauty under a full moon. Each song added a different facet to their growing collection of art, and from my place, the show looked like a beautiful and colorful palette showcasing all its colors and strokes, one by one, without any boring repetition
It was a show to remember, an epic one under Thom’s giant eye watching us (which turned to be the only close-up I experienced from my place), a show under the moon glowing above the bowl… a moon for a moon shaped pool, for a moon shaped bowl..
Desert Island Disk
Climbing Up the Walls
The National Anthem
All I Need
Like Spinning Plates
Subterranean Homesick Alien
Everything in Its Right Place
Morning Mr. Magpie
How to Disappear Completely
Give Up the Ghost
You and Whose Army?