Radiohead, The Beta Band
Red Rocks Amphitheater; Morrison, Colorado
Wednesday, June 20, 2001

In many quarters, the anticipation for this show was off the scales. On the morning the tickets went on sale, die-hard fans lined up outside the ticket windows or huddled in front of computers in hopes of securing tickets for the show of the summer in Colorado; unfortunately, the show sold out in minutes, leaving many out in the cold, in spite of their fervor for England’s best band (who should have added a second show). We got lucky. Never having seen a show at Red Rocks before, we felt especially fortunate to have found tickets.

Though Radiohead’s music can be bleak, isolating and depressing, the mood from band and crowd alike that night was intense, UP… a fabulous energy was in the air. The sky and colorful rocks were beautiful - an amazing setting. Everyone around was in high spirits, with many just plain high. Radiohead doesn’t especially attract a hippie crowd, but the ganja smoke being blown and passed around like it was going out of style lent the place a bohemian vibe… I suspect this is de rigueur at Red Rocks. Anyway, missed most of Beta Band - their last song was none too exciting; I was told they were “nothing special,” but any band opening for Radiohead is bound to pale in comparison in the minds of the band’s fans.

Kicking off appropriately with a powered-up version of the danceable “National Anthem,” Radiohead incited an explosion. They followed with another Kid A track, the pensive “Morning Bell” (“release me”). Three from the amazing OK Computer album (“Lucky,” “Karma Police” and “Exit Music (for a Film)”) followed to the crowd’s approval.

What continued to shock me throughout all of this is the simple fact that all of these songs sound better live in spite of the technology and studio experimentalism that went into their making. A new vitality is imbued in every song in the show.

The first song from their then spanking-new LP Amnesiac, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” (sic) came next. Radiohead played (I believe) five songs from this album: all sounded amazing, encouraging one to value even more this record that has opinion somewhat divided amongst fans, many of whom at that time preferred the companion album produced from the same sessions, Kid A (from which five songs were also played).

What continued to impress is how Radiohead are such versatile, expressive, creative musicians without ever once being showboating wankers. They are able to conjure up an array of colors and textures through their instruments, sometimes in tandem with effects. The band sometimes gets accused of being “prog rockers,” but unlike 1970s bands prone to wankery like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Radiohead works as a coherent whole to produce their intended emotional and musical effect, rather like good progressive Krautrock bands like Can or Neu!. They never showcase an individual’s ability or prowess at the expense of the gestalt. Ego is subsumed under the overarching goal and the result is staggering. As for versatility, Johnny Greenwood played guitar (sometimes creating some otherworldly sounds) as well as multiple keyboards and electric piano (the Whiz Kid). Thom Yorke played some rhythm guitar as well as a grand piano at one point, and Colin Greenwood played stand-up double bass as well as the electric.

Radiohead concentrated on their last three albums, which is fitting, but played three from The Bends, oldies like “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Street Spirit” and their stomping closer, “My Iron Lung.” Fans who go beyond the albums recognized a couple of B-sides, “Permanent Daylight” and “Talk Show Host,” the latter played in an encore.

My only complaint: Thirty dollars for a T-shirt?!

Cry hyperbole, but in the midst of all this, I couldn’t help thinking that “this is like seeing the Beatles,” seeing an imaginary Beatles who were willing or able to keep touring with their more colorful, complex material beginning to surface in 1966, the year they ceased touring. P.S. The Beatles played Red Rocks too.

- Michael Snyder




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