Monday, August 18, 2008
Lolla, Part 3: Alarms and Surprises
[Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of The Verbal Calorie’s Lollapalooza diary. Like its two predecessors—“Lolla, Part 1 and Lolla, Part 2”—the finale is mostly an exposition of hazy memories, and at points boasts almost no connection to reality.]
[Editor’s Note 2: In regards to the comments in “Lolla, Part 1” about Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com wrote an excellent article on the same topic. Wojciechowski, a native Chicagoan, specifically mentions Lollapalooza.]
Somewhere between the maverick anti-label glory and the depressed public posturing lies the truth about Radiohead: they are a very good, very successful rock band. They long ago slid into the top-tier ranking—along with bands like U2, Dave Matthews, and Pearl Jam—that guarantees sold-out tours, excellent sales figures, and universal adulation. Like those other bands, Radiohead is largely mythologized, but they are also misunderstood.
The group’s legend roots in an absurd four-album run spanning 1997-2003. “The Bends,” a monumentally gorgeous record, came out in 1995, but, as has been noted repeatedly, it was “merely” a good pop record. Two years later, though, Radiohead released “OK Computer,” an experimental concept album that made unprecedented aural sense. Rock radio listeners were treated to daily airings of “Karma Police,” and “Paranoid Android” made the late-night MTV video rotation.
Radiohead released “Kid A” in 2000 and then “Amnesiac” one year later. In 2003, they submitted “Hail to the Thief” for public consumption.
Deservedly, these recordings lent the band a certain infallibility, a categorical assumption of genius that so few artists ever merit. Mythologized though they might be—their first album, “Pablo Honey,” is unremarkable, as is their latest, “In Rainbows”—the purpose, at least for the band members, was never to be a big, snotty rock band. In fact, what makes Radiohead so vastly misunderstood is that their music is hardly rock star fare. Much of it is quirky, electronic, and loping. Much of it is low-dynamic and hookless.
Much of it is completely indecipherable to a person brought up on U2, Dave Matthews, and Pearl Jam.
Which brings us to Lollapalooza: since there’s nothing cooler than professing to a) love Radiohead, and b) know all their songs, dozens of thousands of people jammed the main performance area for Radiohead’s performance on the festival’s first night. Body to body traffic spanned 200 feet from the stage, making passage impossible. At a festival like Lollapalooza, where neophyte listeners are as prevalent as diehards, it is difficult to say how much of the elbowing mass might be the genuine, Radiohead-addicted article.
For the initiated, the 24-song set was a Pantheon recital, with a few new tracks mixed in with the greatest hits. Glorious oldies included “Airbag,” the oddly apocalyptic “Everything In Its Right Place,” and “The Bends.” About half the audience knew the words to most songs, and a handful demonstrated the fixated geek information: track names, guitar patterns, historical context, etc.
At the set’s midway point, with the night just having stolen the last bits of sunlight, the Chicago skyline shone like a million small diadems. Fireworks exploded in curlicues just beyond of Grant Park, teaming with the skyline and Radiohead’s stalactitic light show for a seraphic gestalt.
Since the show ended at 10pm, there was time for a considerable spiritual debriefing afterwards. Radiohead-sated hordes flanked the streets, seeking food and further drink. Many coalesced at a small diner with a dance club in the basement, eager to either sit at a booth and reflect or get more boogie on. As we recounted the ways in which Thom Yorke's cadre had just reorganized our pleasure sensors, one benevolent truth stood accented above the rest:
For one night, Radiohead was understood.
Stay Seminal, OK Computer