All photos courtesy of Joel Didriksen, kingpinphotos.com. Go to his website for more, or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And many thanks from the 1600 crew!
"Into each life, a little rain must fall."
Or a lot. At least if you live near Washington DC, and ever have tickets for Radiohead playing at an outdoor venue. You can count on it. Not that it made a lot of the sold out Nissan Pavilion crowd turn around and leave as Mother's Day 2008 slogged on, but they couldn't be blamed if it did. For a show that was supposed to kick off the summer concert season, sunny skies and warm weather couldn't have been farther away.
Our area has seen nearly six inches of rain in the last 4 days, and I swear that Morgan Freeman was in our section wearing a brilliant white cloak, holding a staff, and telling me to start rounding up the animals and to get to work on the ark. It would have come in handy to get through the parking lot...You were soaked walking to the gate, drenched by the time you reached your seat, suffering from hypothermia if you were one of the folks on the lawn that stayed through both encores, dog paddling through the wind driven cascade and the muck. It was bad enough under the Pavilion, where plastic bags for makeshift ponchos were a most valuable commodity. Nearly a week later, and I'm just starting to feel warm and dry again.
The Liars kicked off pretty close to on time, despite the hellacious deluge. If you were there to see them, I suppose you enjoyed the set, but the vast majority of the crowd would have gladly skipped the Liars in exchange for Radiohead getting on a few minutes earlier, and being spared the brutal weather that was driving the crowd away. Frontman Angus Andrew seemed something of a poseur, strutting with grand, dramatic gestures and trying to look like a foppish cross between Mick Jagger and David Bowie in a business suit. I didn't buy it. Jerry, who actually owns their first record and was looking forward to seeing them thought they sounded like a "second-rate Public Image wannabe during their experimental period." If Radiohead must have an opening act next time we see them, I hope it's someone better than this.
Colin Greenwood, laying down the bottom end
But somehow, through the gale winds and nonstop downpour, Radiohead managed to provide another stellar show, playing a wide selection from "The Bends," "OK Computer, "Kid A, "Amnesiac" "Hail to the Thief," and their latest masterpiece, "In Rainbows." With a deceptively simple but unique light show and a screen behind them showing live shots of the band as they played, Thom Yorke was his usual effervescent self, and the band was perhaps the best I've ever seen them. Ed O'Brien's harmonies stood out and added to the mix more than I had remembered, and he, Jonny Greenwood, and Yorke relied mostly on their more guitar driven material. Yorke did play a number of songs on (primarily) upright piano and also some electronic keyboards, as Jonny did as well. But for the most part, it was back to basics, wrapping the crowd in a dense layer of feedback and mining their early catalog with a tremendous set, with all the hooks, grooves, drones, effects, soul, delicacy, crunch, joy, playfulness and sheer beauty that is characteristic of their finest work. They actually raise the bar when they walk onstage to perform, over and above whatever they produce in the studio, a hallmark of any great band. But these guys? Words fail me.
The band opened with an excellent rendition of All I Need, from "In Rainbows," and never let up. They paused only briefly between songs, Yorke making occasional comments, and the band stopping only long enough to applaud the crowd for braving the unforgiving weather. Among the highlights of their 25 song set were Pyramid Song, 15 Step, Idioteque, Paranoid Android, Karma Police, Just, Everything in It's Right Place, and Fake Plastic Trees, which Thom dedicated to the ticket holders that never made it inside for the show, marooned on 66, 29, or in the parking lots. There were a lot of them. And in the second encore, The National Anthem got the crowd all fired up again, bouncing along with the signature guitar lick and squeezing every iota of feedback and energy out of the song. By the end of House of Cards, and giving everything you could expect (and then some!) and after several sincere acknowledgments of the crowd's tenacity by the band, an exhausted- looking Yorke finally told the crowd to get out of the downpour and pleaded for us to "go home." Once again, I had forgotten how wet, cold and miserable it was, the band having transported us away to a different plane. That had to be the shortest 2 hours and ten or so minutes of my life, but equally rewarding. And about as riveting a show as anyone could ever imagine. Did I mention just how incredibly fucking talented these guys are?
Ed O'Brien added solid chops and harmonies
A few words about Nissan Pavilion, the clowns that run it, and their handling of the show under the disastrous conditions that day. No doubt, you've seen rants in the local and national press, as well as online from ticketholders that were turned away, became ill, or who encountered the beyond-abysmal conditions and tried to get out before the 2 hour crush in the parking lot that would follow the show. People were disappointed not by the band (although Radiohead's goal of an eco-conscious tour could not have been undermined more thoroughly by their selection of this venue), who was in rare form. But we all knew this storm was heading our way by no later than Thursday, and the brain trust at Nissan did NOTHING to modify their procedures, make parking and access any easier (the $30 charge for preferred parking nearer to the venue should have been suspended and utilized by early arrivals, which would have also cut down on the delay getting in. Like the $6 ALREADY tacked onto each ticket wasn't enough?!?), or even simply allowing people with seats to cross underneath the Pavilion to get to them, rather than making them walk another 5 or 10 minutes around the perimeter in the typhoon that day so they'd certainly be soggy by the time they reached their destinations. Another friend of mine who made it underneath suggested that handing out (or even selling!) the cheap slickers that were there would have helped, and been a gesture of goodwill by Live Nation to acknowledge the conditions and the dedication of the fans to see this band.
Thom Yorke, in the eye of the storm
But, the incompetent tools missed the boat, as usual. And when the police started turning people away when the road flooded, and were ordering the drenched souls trying to warm up out of their cars in the parking lots, they had a recipe for disaster. It wasn't exactly like they were tailgating, like any other decent venue in civilization allows (yet Nissan will not permit, so we can be gouged an additional $10 for a 24 oz. Miller Lite- thanks again, guys!!) once we get inside their Gestapo- patrolled penal colony. In fact, several released prisoners from Guantanamo who were there complained that being waterboarded was preferable to what we put up with that day! Live Nation, you were seriously fortunate that people didn't riot and start trashing the place. It would have served you right. I saw one stand handing out Hefty trashbags (presumably for people to wear over their soaking wet clothes) as we were leaving. Had someone thought of that about 6:00, it might have been a different story...but that was the ONLY indication of thoughtfulness or charity I saw out of ANYONE on Live Nation's staff all day. It was just business as usual, they already had our money. Well, you won't be getting any more from me!
Phil Selway delivered precise percussion
And the half-hearted attempts made by them to appease angry concertgoers (offering lawn seats for Pavilion ticket holders at a Radiohead show this summer in Camden, NJ? or tickets "based on availability at a later Nissan show- you're kidding me, right?) are ludicrous. Most of the people I spoke with after this fiasco swore they would NEVER attend a show at Nissan again. Those who didn't vow to boycott Nissan altogether said they'd only suffer it again for Radiohead, or maybe Led Zeppelin, as Katy suggested, IF they came through there. I'm only going back when the Beatles reunite (all four) and Jimi Hendrix opens. Unless of course, Radiohead plays there again. Because then I'd have to go. But even on a good day, getting to and surviving a visit at Nissan is like Dante's Ninth Circle, with worse accommodations. I'll bet the beers there are colder, and cheaper!
Jonny Greenwood, master of the melodic drone
Which again points out the urgent need for a first class INDOOR arena in the DC metro area, something that is sorely lacking for a part of the country that constantly sees some of the best entertainment in the world coming through. The Verizon Center has some of the worst sound I've ever heard anywhere, you need binoculars if you're not next to the stage, and it only holds about 17,000 people. The GMU Patriot Center is far better, but even smaller. The Crap Center was a big room, but although a few bands managed to deal effectively with the crummy sound (the Grateful Dead, Phish, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all sounded pretty good there), it was marginal at best, remote, had lots of dead spots, and is now a shopping mall owned by Magic Johnson. I guess after his late night show, he can't sink much lower...unless, of course, he owns a piece of the Nissan Pavilion.
I can't imagine why no one has suggested this before, but a lot of people would support a new initiative by the city to build a stadium in town that had public transportation available, and that really would be appropriate for music rain or shine. To our many multi-billionaire philanthropist viewers out there. please take note: A real concert hall with good sound that holds 35,000 or so people will be SOLD OUT every time a good band tours the east coast. "If you build it, they will come..."
Mr. Gates, Mr. Buffet, Mr. Jobs, Mr. Case, and any other aspiring philanthropists: "Go the distance."
Sorry for the extended rant, but it all needed to be said. My pal Greg, a tough crowd if ever there was one, described the band's music that night as "transcendent." My friend Mike said anywhere, anytime these guys play, he's in, and they're at the top of his list of any bands he's ever seen live. My friend Jon, who scored our tickets during the pre-sale (otherwise we would have been back in 301, even more wet and freezing that night) is seriously considering trying to catch them in San Francisco, while I look at the Toronto, Massachusetts, NY and NJ dates coming in August as being within reach if I can make time for them....
No doubt about it: Radiohead is absolutely phenomenal, and as good as their recordings are, they are one of those bands you really need to see live to "get" entirely. I still maintain they are the best band in the world today, bar none. The sound, even in the deluge, was clear and precise. The stage and light show, although modest, were still unique, well-choreographed, spectacular. Their musicianship defies description, just as their music can't be categorized. Rock, techno, trance, prog, alternative- it is enough to simply say that no one else in the world can do what they do, seemingly without any effort, as if caught up in the droning but harmonious soundscapes they create. Just don't try to see them here. They know they bring out the worst the elements have to offer whenever they set foot near the Nation's capitol.
I can't wait 'til the next time. But if it's local, I'm gonna borrow the Pope-mobile!
thanks again to Joel Didriksen for permission to use these images! more can be found at http://www.brightestyoungthings.com/photos/photo/2486739487/Radiohead-IMG9756.html
we'll see ya at the next show (maybe we can piggyback on your press passes next time around, 'cause your seats were way better!!)