Watching Radiohead is as much a visual experience as it is an auditory one. I had the chance to see them in concert before they headed down for Coachella and I'm glad I caught them. I'm not a die hard fan, as many in the crowd were, but I like them and I was interested to hear some of their newer sounds (because I confess most of my familiarity was from their early period). Seeing Radiohead in concert certainly showcases the broad range of sound they've experimented with through their career.
Besides their music, it was their stage design that informed the show. Their set design was visually arresting, consisting of a number of video screens, including twelve hanging screens that could be raised or lowered into a variety of positions, one huge background screen behind the stage, with another screen half as high in front of that, and then another six video screens along the top.
It was impressive to say the least and the screens effectively provided a lightshow that almost overwhelmed the band members playing below. Though at times the band members were projected on the screens, the majority of the images shown were purposely static and pixallated, a digital distillation that was both soothing and seemed to imply the disconnection of technology. Watching the images was like watching a parade of colors and my friend and I made a game of calling out creative names for them: scarlet red, seagreen, muted violet, broken white and bleeding sepia. Each song had its own palette and I was impressed at how accurately the colors captured the mood of the song. Overall the effect was absolutely hypnotic and, given the amount of pot smoke drifting towards our booth, probably added quite a bit to the audience's entertainment.
But let's talk about the music! Seeing Radiohead is what I would call a thinking concert. The songs are intriguing, there are layers upon layers of sound and I found myself trying to identify each element, as well as their influences. At one point the band employed four drums going at once. Even unfamiliar as I was, the songs make you pay attention, and the visuals only enhanced that effect. It wasn't exactly the kind of music that made me jump and dance but I definitely swayed as I stared mesmerized at the visuals. My seat was quite a ways away so it was hard to gauge the charisma of the band members but they became noticeably more excited - lead Thom Yorke bouncing around the stage - whenever they played one of their new numbers.
All in all I enjoyed the whole experience. The crowd was energized but mellow. (Though I imagine the die-hards were more excited than that.) For the die-hards, I think seeing Radiohead is a must-go. For the rest of us, I'm still not a hard core fan but I think it was a pleasurable experience; the type of concert you can have a couple of drinks at, think about music, and relax. And that's a pretty good evening.
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