Thursday, October 16th, 2003
Radiohead and I go way back. First I heard of them was at the HMV in Square One, Mississauga back in… early 1993? In typical 17 year-old adolescent fashion, I was struck by the lyrics and how perfectly they encapsulated how I felt. The song was “Creep”… typical, eh? I bought Pablo Honey on cassette and pretty much wore it out over the next couple years. Come first year university, and Radiohead hadn’t been heard from in a while – they were seriously flirting with one-hit wonder status. Then came the curious move of releasing an EP domestically with My Iron Lung in the Fall of 1994, which I bought in the campus record store and which utterly blew me away. I’d always thought that Radiohead had potential beyond Pablo Honey, but I didn’t expect the six-song revelation that came next. I waited anxiously for The Bends‘ release in Winter 95 and with that record, I pretty much had a new favorite band. I went the whole nine yards – buying cassette bootlegs, getting friends to buy me t-shirts at concerts I couldn’t get to, amassing a collection of magazines with Thom Yorke’s squinting visage on the covers (now that is dedication!). In 1997, with the release of OK Computer, they were pretty much the biggest band on the planet but I still felt that connection of a long-time fan. It was a bond that seemed unbreakable.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the new millenium. To say that I didn’t like their new direction and wanted them to keep doing what they had always been doing is unfair – I am as big a proponent for artistic growth as anyone, even if it means a difficult transition for the listener. And Kid A was pretty difficult listening. It took a good long while, but after a while I figured I finally ‘got it’. I had penetrated their musical cipher and understood what their muse was saying. But the thing was, I didn’t want to listen to it anymore. I found myself playing Kid A more out of a sense of obligation than genuine desire. Weird. Amnesiac was more of the same, though I had less urge to make excuses for that record. To me, it sounded like what it was – a collection of cast-offs and tracks that didn’t fit on Kid A. While its predecessor had a definite unified ‘album’ feel, I found Amnesiac disjointed and lacking cohesion. There were some great tracks, but as an album, I thought it was lacking – and I still do.
So my favorite band had put out a couple albums that didn’t leave me scratching my head, but did leave me looking around for something else to give me that same buzz they used to. My eye (or ear) was wandering. While Yorke & co were concentrating on creating even more claustrophobic and emotionally disconnected post-millenial anthems, I was getting into the rich melodicism and open-heartedness of classically-styled pop and country music. About as far from Radiohead as you could get at that point. But still, I left a porch light on, expecting that they’d end their wanderings in the desert eventually and come home to me. And when initial reports from the recording sessions on what would become Hail To The Thief, I thought that’s what they’d done. “They’ve gone back to their guitars”, some said. “It’s more accessible and rock-er than the last few albums”, others said. “They’re jamming on ‘Cinnamon Girl’ in rehearsals!” (this one was true – I have an mp3 of it).
And they were right. They had gone back to their guitars. The songs were more accessible and more rock. Was this not what I’d been waiting for? So why did it still leave me feeling flat? After the initial heavy rotation period every new CD gets with me, I again found myself playing Hail To The Thief out of obligation, not desire. Hoping that this next spin would be the moment that it all clicked and got my juices going again. But the fact was, I had so much other music that I genuinely wanted to hear more. That did connect with me, that did resonate with me in a way that Radiohead didn’t, and maybe never did.
Which brings us to tonight. Happy hour at the last-chance saloon. I’d heard more than a few say, “the material from the last few albums all makes sense when you hear it live”, and I hadn’t seen them live since touring OK Computer. So when the HTTT tour rolled through Toronto, I figured this would be a good make-or-break event. The blackout in August postponed decision day a few months, but the moment finally came tonight, and I was 12th row centre-left for it all. Actually getting to that point was something of an adventure that involved standing outside the box office at Skydome in the bitterly cold wind for upwards of two and a half hours waiting for someone – anyone – to tell us where the hell our tickets were. It was nightmarish at the time, but already seems like ancient history. Long story short – we got our tickets and some fans are waaaaay too zealous for their own good. I was thankful to not have floor admission, I was much more interested in being able to sit for the show. Yes, I am an old man.
Kid Koala opened things off, and put on a pretty interesting set of turntablism. It’s not really my thing, but he was certainly good at what he did and was entertaining. Props to the marsupial.
Radiohead took the stage precisely at 8:30 and played for precisely two hours. And I’m sure there’ll be scads of reviews in the local media for the next few days, so I’ll skip out on details, but will post some links as they come. – this post is already way long enough. There’s lots I could go on about, like my first time in the Skydome Concert Hall, or the remakable number of good-looking girls in the audience, but that’s neither here nor there, really. To sum up, they were very very good but my opinion hasn’t changed at all. There simply wasn’t the emotional connection there. I was blown away by their musicianship and the live spectacle of their show, but nothing touched me. But I’ve been to shows where that connection has occurred, listened to albums that have affected me on that level. That’s where the bar has been set, and that’s what I’m looking for from music.
And so I conclude that Radiohead and I simply exist on different wavelengths now. We’ve grown apart. It’s not them, it’s me. Yes, you’re hearing correctly. I am breaking up with Radiohead. It was a great run and you’ll always have a special place in my heart, but Thom, Ed, Jonny, Colin and Phil, I think it’s best that we acknowledge that our time has passed. Which isn’t to say that we can’t still visit. I’ll still stop in and see what you’re up to, we’ll stay in touch, but what we had? It’s over. Thanks for the memories.
np – Uncle Tupelo / March 16-20, 1992