Continued from here:
It is late September 2000.
I am sitting in front of my computer, a move that shocks nobody. It’s an early morning and the sunlight is already glowing brightly outside, again hardly shocking. It’s a weekend and I have felt deeply disinclined to stir further than my room in the shared house — VERY unshocking. But today is a little different — I’m buying a ticket without using the phone or waiting in line. Or at least, I’m hoping I can buy a ticket. I have no idea if I will succeed.
Radiohead, it turns out, are playing Los Angeles in October. It’s the third date in their American tour for the new album coming out, Kid A. It is also the last date of the tour. It is in fact the only tour date within about three thousand miles, since the other dates are out on the East Coast or in Canada. I am competing with god knows how many people for seats in the Greek Theatre, a famed but not huge venue in the Griffith Park area of LA, one I was last at in 1992 to see Peter Murphy (I’ve seen him a lot over the years, I should note — in fact, him solo plus him with Bauhaus = the performer I’ve seen more than any other, approaching something like fifteen times now or close to it). I barely remember anything about the venue but I remember it not being something where seats would be comfortably available for a while. It could have held that crowd at the Universal Ampitheatre from two years back easy, and I remember that crowd very very well.
These tickets are going to go. Like that. And my chances are incredibly slim.
I have decided to run a risk. I’ve used Ticketmaster before online a couple of times, but not all that often. Up until earlier that year or so I was still stuck using an okay but hardly great fax/modem connection at home, so any Net use pretty much dragged. However, the local cable company has finally kicked in a bit with its infrastructure, and I am the content user of a cable modem now, with the appropriate increase in speed. This has proven handy for a number of things, not least of which has been the ability to start downloading mp3s from the still-in-existence Napster as well as other sources. I’ve been able to scarf up complete B-side collections of a lot of favorite artists at long last, including the Cure, the Banshees, PJ Harvey, many more (not to mention the last missing pieces for my exhaustive Boo Radleys CDR set, of interest to maybe me and ten other people, but one of them was Martin Carr, who’d wanted a copy, though I never got an address to send it to).
The lines for Ticketmaster windows will be a madhouse. The phone lines don’t even bear thinking about. The computer is my only option, in the hope that not everyone has full speed access yet, and that the server won’t melt down upon impact. I am going to give it a go.
The time approaches and I start refreshing the appropriate window, quite a bit. Every possible time. Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, god hasn’t it hit the right time for them, refresh, refresh, OMIGOD I’m in!
A couple of seconds of being stunned is all I allow myself and I’m off to the races. Two tickets please. Best available. Being held for me. Payment details. It’s all going reasonably quickly, I’m still kind of amazed. Sent through. Waiting for confirmation…
Confirmation page up. Confirmation number provided. Ticket locations spelled out. E-mail sent. Tickets to be delivered.
I’m in. I’m two-thirds of the way back but as mentioned this isn’t a humungous venue. I’m more or less in a direct line to the stage.
Later, I talk with others who tried to get tickets in line or on the phone. Apparently all seats were gone in a couple of minutes, while hundreds if not thousands of people were left hanging.
Some days later a story goes around that a pair of tickets near the front are being offered for $5000 on eBay, and have been purchased.
2000 has been a full year. I’m still at the house and still at the job, but supervisors have changed at the latter a couple of times, while friend Jake has moved out of the house in a bit of high dudgeon after an extremely tense situation (long since happily resolved). Brian’s been helping with shows over at Koo’s, located at this point in Santa Ana, and some excellent performances have happened in recent years (also some not so excellent ones, including a yelping, theatrical goof and his band opening for the far superior Pinback; I put up with the “SUNRISE! SUNSET!” chanting for a bit and go elsewhere on the grounds of the club/house, feeling assured that Bright Eyes have no future). I’ve recently gotten back in touch with a friend of a friend from the early 90s, Oly, a very solid and responsible person; he’s a music freak as well, and we’ve caught a couple of shows together. It’s us who make the plans to try and see Radiohead later, hoping we can actually score those tickets. Many other overlapping friendships in OC make the days go well and more than once I end up crashing with others at two friends’ shared house after an evening of brilliant food, great wine and wonderful conversation.
I have been writing for the All Music Guide for a couple of years, literally working through my CD collection as I go, in some cases creating entries out of whole cloth where before there had been but a couple of one sentence summations. Partially at my doing, a coterie of online friends has abandoned alt.music.alternative, where we’d been talking for a while to ourselves amid an endless stream of spam and sludge, and gone to a private mailing list allied to a very handy file server, where for a couple of years we can quietly exchange mp3s new and old and catch up on a lot of stuff as much as talk about what’s new. Joining this list after a certain point is the woman I’ve recently fallen in love with and vice versa. She lives in London, and a long-planned trip to the city now coincides with it being a chance for us to spend some time together. We spend a great summer vacation together and make plans for her visit out to see me for Christmas later that year, which turns out to be a smash success.
During the midsummer trip, the Meltdown festival takes place, this year being curated by Scott Walker; having only fairly recently come to his work properly at the instigation of a close friend, and after having heard so many of his self-declared followers over the years, it’s been a revelation, and I enjoy Tilt as much as the ‘classic’ first four solo efforts. Walker does not perform but his touch is evident throughout, and though I never get to see Pulp again live after a show in 1996 I do enjoy Jarvis Cocker’s solo/side project ‘A Touch of Glass,’ featuring very Durutti Column-like instrumental improvisations featuring glass harmonica. Asian Dub Foundation put on a fantastic show on another evening and while their albums never quite work for me the show itself is crackerjack.
Blur play one night on the bill; I’ve seen them plenty of times in the past, they have lost me since 1997, and ticket demand is too high anyway. Radiohead are also playing. It is the conclusion of a European tour that has been a high-demand sell-out end to end, and they have been debuting new songs from their forthcoming album like crazy. We made attempts to get tickets at several points for the Meltdown show when we realized the lucky coincidence of my attending during these dates, but to no avail — rarer than hen’s teeth doesn’t begin to describe it. She enjoys Radiohead but prefers their Bends-era material, no bad thing, and scalping isn’t an option. There are many other things to do, including a memorable day where we meet up with, among many other great people, the legendary Tom Ewing, scholar and gent and founder of the Freaky Trigger website. Some weeks after this meetup he uses space on a fairly quiescent web server with a bulletin board that mimics newsgroup layouts to an extent to start a response section for Freaky Trigger articles, blog comments not yet being standard, called I Love Music. The forthcoming release of Kid A is the second thread on the board, specifically a brief discussion involving the album cover. I am somewhat skeptical.
There is a lot of talk already about this album, a huge amount. Business rags are predicting number one debuts not only in the UK but in America. Chatter on the Net is huge, chatter in the music press almost as much. A site called Pitchfork has already gone into apoplexies. Radiohead are an ‘important’ band now, cemented into some form of discourse. There’s vague rumors about how the sound is supposed to be different from before. The band’s web site has featured all sorts of random posts and hosted a few broadcasts here and there featuring new songs, or at least performances of them. Audience-recorded cuts from the summer tour have been shared and listened to and, for all their murkiness, initial judgments are being made. The consensus is that it all sounds like Radiohead, logical enough.
Around Labor Day weekend, mp3s of the album appear on the Internet.
It is late October. I am standing next to Oly at our seat locations in the Greek Theatre. Nobody is sitting. As far as we can tell, nobody sits during the entire performance. It’s into the encores, and Thom Yorke has just thanked us all for coming, about the most he’s spoken to the audience all evening aside from brief bits here and there. He adds something else.
“Big ups to everyone up in the forest.”
The Greek Theatre is an open-air venue in Griffith Park. Ahead of us is a lower area behind the stage, sloping down further — the cloud cover is heavy, it’s essentially fog, though not completely thick. We can see to the stage clearly enough and a little ways beyond it, then after that it’s a darkly lit roof of cloud. I haven’t felt quite such a dramatic setting in almost ten years, when, literally, thunder and lightning heralded the appearance of Depeche Mode on stage.
I have listened to Kid A innumerable times at this point, or so it seems. Ever since the mp3s appeared, it seems everyone has, or at least has heard them enough to talk about them. Skewed perspectives, of course — most people on Earth don’t give a damn. My circles are a bit more obsessed, even if only in an informational ‘so this is the current thing’ way. A lot of friends are utterly sick of Radiohead and everything around them to this point. I don’t blame them, not after last time.
At the end of the previous year I’d noticed that Oasis’s fourth album leaked a couple of months before release, and that there’d be a flurry of activity about that. Earlier in 2000 the Cure’s Bloodflowers had appeared early as well, with a bonus track even. Kid A‘s leak is on another level in terms of attention, and in the month between the leak and its release in the first week of October a question has been whether or not it would hurt the album’s commercial prospects. It debuts in America at number one, in the UK at number one, Japan at number three. The question whether or not the leak was an intentional promo move has come to the fore as a result; notably this comes a lot from writers who were feeling frustrated with the hoops they had to jump through to get access to the album via regular promotional channels.
Radiohead have taken to the stage with a blast of overlapping and chopped-up radio/TV broadcast samples, followed by a huge bass line. The song is “The National Anthem,” which had been played along with “Idioteque” the previous weekend on Saturday Night Live. Along with “Optimistic,” which has been chosen by KROQ and other stations as a de facto single even though no official one has been released, they are the most immediately familiar songs played that night.
A minute into “The National Anthem” a random thought shoots through my head, as I’m trying to grapple with what I’m hearing — “This must have been what it was like to see Joy Division.” It’s the bass, really, that sums it up, Colin Greenwood digging hella deep and everything else hitting like nobody’s business, in ways I still can’t describe. (I have, however, just heard it again a bit ago as I type this — thanks to the world of the Net being what it is, I have straight CDR copies of the last three times I’ve seen the band, audience tapes all but all pretty good to great sounding. It’s not the same as I remember it, of course. No live tape is. I am sitting in a chair typing rather than standing looking at stage, my ears are clear rather than being stuffed with earplugs. And so on.)
Thom Yorke has made the comment he did because of the way the Greek Theatre is set up. Ahead of us, as mentioned, an open area, the cloud-shrouded sky. Behind us the hill rises up into the park, with nothing but tangled trees for what must be a good stretch. Beyond the fencing is just more of Griffith Park, and not an easily accessed area of it either; however, I learn, if one drives to a certain spot and parks and makes one’s way down towards the edge of the Greek Theatre grounds, one can at least hear the show if it’s loud enough. There are, I gather, no paths, no seats, nothing but trees to work amid and among. I probably have it feeling more uncomfortable and hard to deal with in my mind than in reality, having never nosed around there myself; still, on a chilly fall night it can’t be the easiest of places to be.
Given demand for the show, it’s logical to assume that many people might be there on that hillside, having freely if uncomfortably made their way along. There’s no reason why the band might not know this or wouldn’t have been told this. It’s a very logical comment for Thom Yorke to say, and so he says it.
I jerk my head around in surprise, and I’m probably more than a little startled.
The roar that comes down from behind us, just a few sets of rows away, from behind the back of the seating area, is indescribable. It is huge. I can almost feel it through the earplugs. There are shrieks, roars, calls, more besides. Somewhere, out of sight but so close, is a mass of humanity. It’s the fact that they can’t be seen, just heard, that is the part that is close to terrifying. Strictly speaking, the only difference between us and them is the purchase of a ticket and the luck to have been able to purchase it in the first place.
People around me shift uncomfortably, look equally amazed, joke with one another even as they crane and stare into the darkness. Oly looks at me and shakes his head with a rueful smile and a nervous laugh.
“Wow…it’s like something out of Braveheart.”
He’s not wrong.
So calm. So serene. So frenetic.
My copy of this album is a starting-to-rot CDR that I burned from the mp3s shortly after getting them. They have all the odd little glitches that cropped up in the rip of “Optimistic.” I still never got around to purchasing a real copy. Like nearly every album I’ve relistened to so far in this project, I’ve barely touched it in years, probably haven’t heard it in half a decade. And hearing “Everything In Its Right Place” as it stood is breathtaking, because it isn’t there. Almost.
And how busy flat calm can truly be.
If I dug out every reaction to this album when it first came out I’d be here a while. If I tried to engage with all the negative ones I’d be here a while. If I tried to pretend I’m some sort of superior creature for tackling such bizarre negative creatures I’d deserve tarring and feathering. (I probably did try to pretend it yesterday or imply it. I must resist.)
In a real sense for me, Radiohead starts here.
Think of OK Computer‘s grotesqueries at its start (a compliment). “Airbag”‘s huge swaggering snarl, “Paranoid Android”‘s perverted grandiosity. Now here, the low swelling waves of sound and fractured sample overload and flat melody and abstracted singing of “Everything,” then the child melody box tinkle of “Treefingers,” soft gentility with distant scrapes and slurs. Did people hate it because it wasn’t big? Because it didn’t make them feel big? Because fist-pumping was off the menu, per se?
Did they just really and truly hate keyboards?
Other complaints from a different angle. “It’s just Eno/Aphex/Boards of Canada/post-rock! We’ve heard this!” True, so have I. “It’s not innovative!” No, not really. “It’s just dabbling!” Hell, there should be a lot more of it! “I hate these guys!” Hey, go right ahead! Hate ’em until the cows come home! What am I supposed to do, tell you no?
Stripey, on hearing it: “Live is different. It’s better.”
She based this on the live cuts she’d heard from the preceding tour and again, it makes sense; as explained the other day, it’s the live arena for her that they fully connect in. The Greek Theatre show confirmed that much to me as well, subsequent performances heightened it.
And yet there’s this, and this fraying, restrained, boiled down and kicking out and angry and coiled tight album, this album that seethes. It isn’t a cold masterpiece of chilled perfection, it is a warm compression into a two-dimensional structure that rises on the horizon constantly in tesseracts. It is constantly suggesting more than seems to be really there, the orchestral swells on “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” the squalling jazz chaos of “The National Anthem,” the after echo of swirling shoegaze refracted on “In Limbo.”
The hook is the bass line, the keyboard part, the vocal melody and then the band aims down and in and close to the chest, adds more to catch your eye and ear and then jerks it away. Kid A is the masterpiece of a mindset that says it’s not important what you play but what you DON’T play.
It gives the traditional melancholia to those who want it, and beautifully so. “How to Disappear Completely” is a recessional, walking backwards, pulling you forward, getting seasick as the strings start curving in non-Euclidean fashions. “Optimistic,” the pseudo-single, is…easy. Pleasant. What were those U2 comparisons again?
Most of the album would so easily flow in all these ways, the slow-wave-crest of the title track’s tones, a figure wistfully contemplating and worrying like “Morning Bell,” a sigh and a snarl intertwined. Yet the spanner is in the works.
“Idioteque” — its appeal, personally defined:
2 to 1 says most critics would never want to divulge their rock star (or whatever) fantasies in full. Oh they might play around, if they’re not actually in bands, and good on them if they are. But if not, then the retreat to karaoke, air guitaring when nobody is around, dancing in a crowd, standards.
Let me be a little more open and embarrass myself. So — since I was thirteen or so, I’ve fronted a band in my head. What this band is like, what this band performs, who’s in this band, etc. Very great band too, in all its permutations, feeding my ego, and without running the risk of doing anything like actually learning an instrument or how to sing (Windy of Windy and Carl to me at Terrastock 6: “Ned, why haven’t you ever started a band?” Me: “I’m too lazy, Windy!”), the sell-out crowds are enormous and we are state of the art.
Currently it’s a four-piece, a guitarist with more pedals than god, a bassist that combines Peter Hook with Deb Googe, someone else anchoring the computer and keyboards. No live drummer, sorry. Personal bias. Yet the core of the music revolves around beats, and unlike almost any other ‘rock’ band out there we actually sound like we’ve heard current radio and rhythmic experimentation. LCD Soundsystem meets Depeche meets NIN, maybe, I don’t know.
For a song to make me lock into the mode of thinking about this fantasy band, to stop appreciating it and to feel like I’m actually out there on stage with an actual singing voice instead of the croak I am cursed with, it needs to be good. And the lock-step, stark as hell beats, the melody, that sense again that something is just under the floorboards and behind the walls about to reach out, the lyric delivery — the live-wire ‘we are HERE’ of this song (and how this song works live every time, every single time) — can be summed up by me just wanting to be out there on the mic, feeling myself wound up tighter and tighter and tighter even while maintaining a preternatural calm as I build to a point where I’m singing a lyric that used to make me just think of some old classic-rock song, now something else from somewhere else, a perfect moment:
“Take the money and run
Take the money and run
TAKE THE MONEY!”
Walter Mitty never had it as good as I do.
It is late 2000, and the Christmas visit alluded to earlier is approaching. I’m anticipatory, who wouldn’t be? I am also a little annoyed and concerned at the bizarre presidential election fallout; however, while I think it clear that institutional and political bias is at work to confirm Bush as president, I am also clear that had Gore been able to win his home state — something one expects of major candidates, something even Mondale was able to do in 1984 against Reagan — then Gore would have been the outright victor and the Florida debate would be a notable sideshow, but still just that. My sense of frustration with those who do not recognize this will grow with time. My feelings about the future are essentially cynical.
The word, meanwhile, is that the follow-up to Kid A, in response to everyone who found it too cold, weird, too ‘not’ Radiohead, will be a much more straightforward rock and roll album.
Thank you, YouTube:
“The National Anthem” on SNL:
“Idioteque” on SNL:
“How to Disappear Completely” at PinkPop:
“Everything In Its Right Place” in Paris:
“In Limbo” at Rock AM Ring:
“Motion Picture Soundtrack” in Paris: