White River Ampitheatre, Auburn WA.
8. 20, 2008
Wow! What can one say about the greatest rock band in the world playing a fantastic show?
Well, one could bitch about the venue, the incredible traffic to get to the horrible parking situation at the venue. The rain, which fell incessantly all day, before arriving, with the traffic; heading toward the venue (it actually stopped raining long enough for the traffic to snarl, perturbably- think: crawling at 5 mph for 10 miles over the course of 2 hours‘ time).
One could complain about the inalienable hole that is Auburn, Washington- or about the Muckleshoot Indian tribe, whom, with an “If you build it, and put Radiohead in it- they will surely come,” mentality decided to place a stadium with 30 plus thousand seating out in the middle of absolute nowhere- with not one shred of thought given to the traffic or parking situations (two lane highways approach from any direction, a creek bed for a “parking lot”)? To be sure, it is their continued revenge on the descendants of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman for bringing the measles to the Cayuse. Laughing all the way to the bank.
It’s Radiohead at White River Ampitheater. photo Lesley Lathrop
But not even all that could ruin a show by the greatest rock band in the world. It was a perfect show, with Radiohead playing all but two of their greatest hits in a 25 song show (which included five and three song encores), which lasted a little over two and a half hours. An LED lightshow to light up the night in new and inventive ways. Five video screen panels with unique camera shots of the band members at the back of the stage. Two monstrous screens at either side of the stage broadcasting the best parts to a crowd stretching back beyond the mostly covered ampitheatre; back to the poor souls who sat, drenched in the downpour, up on the lawn, way in the back. But even those poor dumb bastards were certain it was the best show they had ever seen, by the best rock band in the world. Who could argue that?
Even from a half a mile off, out in the gravel pit parking lot we could easily hear Radiohead opening their show with “15 Step” from their latest In Rainbows album. Phil Selway’s hypnotic 5/4 beat and Colin Greenwood’s bottom heavy bass rattled every fender among the 10,000 or so cars parked in the lot. Like apparently almost everyone else who attended the show- we weren’t about to get stuck, again, experiencing the opening act: Liars UK, whom we saw opening for Interpol last Fall and to which we promised we would never subject ourselves, again.
We were bitterly disappointed at missing the opening song, but were crestfallen to hear the band cranking into a soulful version of “Reckoner” (also from In Rainbows) just as we hit the outer periphery of the stadium. What band in their right mind plays their greatest song ever, second in the setlist? The greatest rock band in the world, that’s who. And they do it because they know they have 23 more of their greatest songs yet to follow.
We didn’t mind so much missing “Optimistic” from their 2000 release, Kid A. Even standing in line to enter the venue, you could hear Jonny Greenwood twisting gnarled guitar frames, while the other guitarist, Ed O’Brien, added his characteristic little riffs. But when, as we were waiting in yet another line to get our Pit Standing wristbands, we heard “There, There” from 2003’s “Hail To The Thief,” we were absolutely heartbroken.
How could we love a show in which we missed their two most important songs? Well by the time we found our place in the pit, standing about 40 feet from the stage over on Jonny’s side, and heard vocalist Thom Yorke crooning “All I Need” (also from In Rainbows) in his scratchily cherubic choirboy tenor, as the lights flashed and the multiple cameras placed all over the stage (minature cameras, they could not be detected) zoomed in on each member, flashing their visages behind the band on giant video screens, we forgot all about what we’d missed. It took less than 30 seconds.
Then a piano was expertly wheeled onto the stage and Thom Yorke clutched the familiarly strange chord sequence of “Pyramid Song” from 2001’s Amnesiac, as the incredible Jonny Greenwood mirrored Yorke’s slippery vocal with an ethereal synthesizer string patch. Mind Boggling! With the next song, Yorke delved deeper into the Radiohead songbook to bring the lost ‘90s B-Side “Talk Show Host” to the fore with its lyrics of estrangement and disillusionment
Then Colin Greenwood took to the forefront, with the bottom-heavy basslines of “The National Anthem,” from Kid A, as Phil Selway verified why he is one of rock’s most underrated drummers. Next, Jonny Greenwood demonstrated his ability to play a radio, while augmenting the sounds with his foot pedals, on the entrancing “The Gloaming” from 2003’s Hail To The Thief. At the midpoint of the opening set, Yorke again went to the piano to execute his lovely ballad from In Rainbows, “Videotape.”
Digging deeper into the band’s very deep catalog, with Greenwood again indicating a knack for unique synth noise coloration, Yorke lent his soft, sweet voice to the soft sweet song, “Lucky” from 1997’s groundbreaking Radiohead album, “OK Computer.” Next, Yorke and Jonny Greenwood donned acoustic guitars and attempted to play “Faust Arp” from In Rainbows. But Yorke flubbed the words. He immediately launched into a truly misshapen version of Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why,” before Greenwood botched the chords. Then Yorke again launched into “Faust Arp” again, screwing that up too. With a good-natured “Aw fuck it” he kept going and the pair played the song to its finish.
The band followed with another song from In Rainbows, their latest (and arguably their best) album- they played every song from the album with the exception of “House Of Cards”- the snaky basslines, chunky guitars and ephemeral background vocals of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” rumbling in sonic splendor. Their version of “Climbing Up The Walls” was possibly better than the version they recorded for OK Computer. Jonny Greenwood added haunting synth lines to “Dollars and Cents” from Amnesiac. And the band ended the first set with scintillating takes on “Nude,” the sad ballad from In Rainbows, and a highly charged version of the guitar driven “Body Snatchers” from the same album.
After a brief respite, the band returned for its first encore, the clamoring crowd ashout with glee (it must be said that even the mosh pit was exuberantly respectful to the band- there was no moshing at all, but serious attent and vociferous admiration). The entire crowd never sat down for even a moment, standing in awe; but, then, never lost control, either. Sort of like the band.
With careful acoustic guitar phrasing, Thom Yorke returned with a soulful version of “How To Disappear Completely” (from Kid A) with Jonny Greenwood adding deft synth strings, while brother Colin executed flawless basslines. Yorke continued the first encore with a thoughtful performance of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” from the new album. Two more tracks from the revolutionary Kid A followed.
A sterling version of “Idioteque” with Jonny Greenwood’s idiosyncratic sound effects and Yorke’s frenetic “ice age comin’” vocals led to the guitar heavy “In Limbo,” with O’Brien showcasing the subtly tight inside riff work which makes him so invaluable to the band. They concluded the set with “Street Spirit (Fade Out” from The Bends- one of the most depressing songs ever written- where O’Brien again showcased his deceptively complex riffage.
Not willing to let the evening end, the tumultuous audience brought the band back for a magical version of the beautiful ballad “You And Whose Army“ from Amnesiac. Yorke dedicated the song to the over 40,000 protesters who had demonstrated during the World Trade Organization conference in November 1999, mentioning that it was his favorite thing about Seattle. Not surprisingly, the crowd roared in approval.
The band followed with a touching take on a sentimental favorite, “No Surprises,” from OK Computer and ended the evening with a terrific interpretation of “Everything In Its Right Place” from Kid A. As the band members individually left the stage at the wild electronic frenzy of the final bars, O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood remained to play their foot pedals with oblivious tenacity, leaving the stage in a crescendo of beautiful noise.
Sated, the crowd happily exited the arena- to trudge back to the parking lot in a dousing downpour. Only Radiohead could have pulled off such a thing. Only the greatest band in the world could send a throng home, happily through the puddles and ripples on the blank shore- interminably to wait to exit the parking lot and trudge for two more hours back to the hopeless dungheap that is Auburn, Washington. Only the greatest band in the world could have made it all worthwhile.
We agreed that only Radiohead could ever bring us back to the Godforsaken hellhole that is the White River Ampitheatre in Godforsaken Auburn, Washington. But we would return, gladly, to see the greatest band in the world- in hopes they would somehow duplicate, even partially, such a magnificent display of art and artifice. Wow!