Radiohead have always had a knack for capturing the intangible, whether it’s the over-looming mysticism of Ok Computer or the ever-fleeting regrets in their latest work A Moon Shaped Pool. And when they translate it into live form, their soundscapes conjure up a transcendental feeling that far overcomes any live environment, whether it be main stage at Coachella, an arena like Madison Square Garden, or a small club in Hollywood like the Fonda. Once you enter the venue, or even the vicinity of it, the excitement becomes palpable.
Which is why it came to some surprise when they announced a massive four-night residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, in which they’ve never done four dates at ANY venue in the world, which only brought more excitement for rabid fans who flocked to the arena every night to see how each set-list changed from night to night, knowing that the four-night run would bring out the deepest cuts form the band’s catalogue.
And the rabid fans got their wish. Since it’s been over two years since their last release, this tour has turned into somewhat of a “we’ll tour because we feel like it and don’t have anything to promote” tour, as the band’s set-lists stretched over and dipped into every phase of their discography, with only about three or four tracks from AMSP to start off the night. But regardless of the varied repertoire, they could’ve played a show full of covers and the crowd still would’ve loved it. I’ve always believed that the crowd can bring a live show from 100% all the way down to 0, but thankfully, Radiohead fans are diehard enough to truly want to be there, some even camping out overnight just to be the first ones at the rail.
Dipping into every record from their career, they even included some singles that weren’t featured on any of their albums (i.e. their rejected James Bond song “Spectre”), but the unexpectedness of what they’d pull out of their magic hats only added to the excitement. I could go into details about what exact songs they played, or go into how Jonny’s lingering guitar tapping fed into his delay pedal, or Colin’s constant communication between every member in every song… but that’s all besides the point. It would be just that: me telling you what happened. The point is, regardless of what songs they played, they’re able to bring to life a constant, almost stoned stream of consciousness that resets the synapses – a sonic journey that stretches time and allows the mind to wander and rejuvenate, as if everyone in the room hopped into a boat together and headed down river.
And that’s always been the power of Radiohead: to establish or bring to light an air of intangible connectivity, how we’re all cattle and prodded onto airplanes or subways by an over-arching power that we couldn’t fathom to exist. It’s a scary thought to think about someone looking down above us and manipulating every move we make and controlling how we travel and move about our daily lives as if our fate isn’t even within our own hands.
Which is kind of what New York embodies, a sense that an interconnected, non-existent web exists connecting all of our lives, past, present, and future, where you can go on a subway and run into people you haven’t seen in years out of the blue, or where you can find the phase of your next life standing right beside you. Yes, seeing Radiohead is a magical experience, but seeing them in a city where everyone’s movements is shaped by architecture and avenues and sidewalks, infrastructure that guides us where we’re trying to be, is an experience all within itself. It’s as if Radiohead’s premonition of human manipulation and isolation was fully coming to fruition (not that it already wasn’t), but they’re celebrating it in a way that proves all we have is each other, that all of our lives have been influenced by people of our past, no matter how long or how little they may have taken part in it. It’s scary to think we’re infinitely connected with all the people from our lives as if it all revolves around something, but even scarier to think that this web of connectivity really revolves around nothing at all.
After the show, my friend and I hopped on the subway to the night’s next destination. As we got off to transfer to the L train Brooklyn-bound, I swore I passed a girl I had gone to college with, but had been so long that I couldn’t comprehend if it was actually her or not. We kept approaching each other, getting closer and closer till we got a good look at one another… and passed each other right up. I think it was her, fairly certain. And as I rounded the corner, we both looked back to see if it was actually each other we just saw. I bet it was her, but sometimes it’s best to leave things unanswered.
Cover photo by Andrew Brady