'We're really hippies at
heart," Thom Yorke said on Saturday during the last song in the first of two
encores before a massive crowd at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
In donning an acoustic guitar and setting up an ethereal performance of
"Street Spirit" from "The Bends," the leader of today's reigning art-rock
band seemed to confirm something I've long contended: Radiohead is the Pink
Floyd of Generation Y.
Whenever I make this observation, I invariably hear from Radiohead fans
who vehemently disagree. But Saturday's show convinced me that it's because
they don't really know the Floyd's canon.
True, there were no flying pigs or other elaborate visual gimmicks at
Alpine. The British quintet performed on a spartan stage devoid of all
advertising (in keeping with its anti-corporate political stance) and
adorned only with two moderately sized video screens and a simple light
show--the better to keep the focus on the players.
For years before "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," Pink Floyd
did much the same. Witness the 1972 concert film "Live at Pompeii." As the
members of Radiohead used a vast array of old analog equipment to create
their futuristic outer-space symphonies and sinisterly themed mood music, I
couldn't help but think of David Gilmour, Roger Waters and company playing
the songs from "Meddle" amid the Roman ruins two decades earlier.
Like a great bebop group, Radiohead is better experienced live (where the
members' virtuosity can be fully appreciated) than on record (where the
impressive visceral kick of bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway
is often sacrificed to electronic beats and burbles, and the listener is
deprived of watching Jonny Greenwood's sonic ingenuity as he attacks his
heavily effected guitar, modular Moog synthesizer, wireless handheld sampler
and small orchestra's worth of other instruments).
Yorke's love-it-or-hate-it voice and melodramatic, operatic flourishes
also are easier to accept in concert, where the twisted gnome underscores
his sarcasm by mugging at the camera with arched eyebrows (as he did during
a funny reading of "You and Whose Army?") or dancing wildly with a sort of
spastic glee whenever he isn't tethered to a guitar or his black upright
piano (an instrument that's been shamelessly appropriated by Coldplay's
Chris Martin, though he employs it to much more conventional effect).
Radiohead faced a challenge in trying to top its last local performance
at Grant Park's Hutchinson Field in 2001, and it didn't quite succeed.
Chicago residents spent three times longer driving to and from East Troy,
Wis., than they did watching Radiohead, which performed for a little under
two hours. And while Alpine's crystalline sound and lush green setting were
superior to the Tweeter Center's muddy mix and sterile facade, nothing could
beat the sight of the group performing before the incredible backdrop of the
But as the band offered a satisfying sampling of material from its recent
album "Hail to the Thief"--from the rollicking show opener "2+2=5" through
"There There" ("A song about peace, love, whatever"), which closed the set
proper--as well as a healthy dose of its older material (including "Paranoid
Android," "Kid A" and "Karma Police"), it proved once again why it has
earned a sizable mainstream following, as well as the enduring respect of
the rock underground.
No other band today has the power to transport a crowd of more than
30,000 to foreboding alien landscapes and the shadowy places of their
nightmares in quite the same way. In concert more than on album, Radiohead
remains a trip that is well worth taking for any adventurous listener
interested in exploring rock's hippie horizons.