Last time I wrote a review I started by complaining that festivals or open air concerts should happen in the country side, I was out in the valley (St Triphon, Vaud) to watch Radiohead last night, and trust me, it was in the middle of nowhere! That is fine by my standards, what was totally off were logistics and the overall organization, one of the biggest fail I’ve ever seen in my 15 years concert career, but more on this later.
Now to the music, and what music: RADIOHEAD! First time I saw Radiohead was in 2000 short after they published “Kid A”, last time was in 2003 after “Hail to the thief”, comes without saying that I was approaching this gig with a question in my mind: “how will the songs from the last 10 years sound live?”. Background, I’m a huge fan of Radiohead since their first life period: PabloHoney/TheBends/OkComputer are among my favorite albums ever, their second phase let me puzzled in admiration KidA/Amnesiac/Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows gave me some hope that they were going back to guitars and the dark King of Limbs let me a bit cold, therefore the question, the songs on the album didn’t blow my mind, how will I like them live? Short answer? Much much better!
It’s very rare to go to a concert and conclude that the songs live sound better than on the album, almost anybody can sound like MUSE today on an album if your producer know how to press some special fx buttons, but playing your own songs live and playing them as good or better than on the album, it’s a totally different game. Now, no suprises (Gosh I would have loved they play that one…) Radiohead play since years in the Champion’s league of rock bands, during a 20 years career (Pablo Honey was issued in 1993!) they gained global recognition for not following any musical fashion, they led the way into new sounds, rhythms and new music business model (In Rainbows was released for a discretionary fee on internet before being released on cd). Radiohead are a unique concept by themselves and there couldn’t be a better/stranger location than this weird natural arena made of stone in the middle of the woods in a swiss valley to see them live performing their last darker album and the music was not good, it was magnificent. Musicians were on top shape, Thom Yorke robotic and hypnotic as usual in his singing while dancing, the sound system for once made justice to the artists (it was mind blowing how the rhythmic section made our legs shake) and the lights? Man the lights were simply among the best show I’ve ever seen live, right up there next to a Rolling stones or U2 concert. Mobile screens were rotating and going up and down ahead the bands heads, hidden cameras were filming all the musicians and each of them had a dedicated screen, background lights were projecting their colors on the stone walls of the valley, the result was a fantastic atmosphere perfect for a Radiohead concert.
The band came onstage at 9 sharp, and boarded the crowd on a 2 hours concerts journey spanning over mainly the last 3 albums. They kicked off with a great Lotus Flower and Bloom versions from their latest album. The screens and the lights really add drama to the songs, Thom’s voice is as clear and high as ever, Johnny Greenwood after years still looks like having a very introspective moment during the gig, staring to his feet on a trip of his own with the guitar. Before 15 Step he talks to the crowd for the first time with a very funny and eloquent: “Thank you very much for supporting us out here, wherever we are”. Kid A managed to finally warm up the crowd that goes ecstatic a couple of songs later when the band engages in “There There” the first single from “Hail to the Thief” on which both Johnny Greenwood and other guitarist Ed O’Brian leave for a moment their guitar to join the rhythmic session on drums to build the hypnotic rhythm of the song. As mentioned already the band artistically and technically is maybe at their pinnacle, the bass sound of Separator is so strong that we fear the millenary rocks might start to crumble, Thom’s voice is simply sublime (and I wonder if he would still be able to sing the interlude of Creep… J), sing along at Radiohead are rare (even more in Switzerland) but all the people around me looked fully into it, dancing and moving to the strange rhythms built by Mr Selway on drums. Yorke’s songs are usually introspective, sometimes dark, rarely joyful but the overall result with the lights and the location fit very nicely all together so that everybody looked like they were enjoying the concert and having a really good time out there in the woods.
Yorke’s interactions with the fans are pretty seldom, a short French “Ca va?” before Pyramid Song and a “You might know this one” which opens one of the top 2 moment of the concert: Paranoid Android, and indeed, the crowd knew that one, and for the first time since 9 o’clock, shyly, dared a little singing. Execution of this song is simply amazing, Thom’s on acoustic guitar sings it perfectly and after it the gig’s not the same anymore and we start hoping that this will never end! Before a short break they sneak in Feral and Little by Little to finish on Idioteque, one of my personal favorites from Kid A that makes the crowd move even more and leaves us with hungry for more when they go off stage.
First encore (4 songs!) includes The Daily Mail with Thom on piano (great song, a must download for any Radiohead fan), Myxomatosis and Reckoner close the encore with a spectacular moment where Selway (the drummer) goes through the song with a drums stick in one hand and 3 maracas on the other one.
Second encore closes the night at 11pm, new song Identikit and one of their best songs post Ok Computer: Everything in its right place whose repetitive lyrics, engaging lights and Yorke’s dance move close the night in a perfect way.
What else? We wanted more! Go beyond the 2 hours concert (a treat already compared to the usual current 1h average gigs), please Thom go on and play Karma Police all by yourself on acoustic guitar, go punky and play something from Pablo Honey, please make us rock with 2+2=5, sing, dance, play, do whatever you want but please don’t stop us and don’t let us face the fact that we now need to walk through crop fields for 45 min to go back to our cars!!
Radiohead are probably today the biggest alternative band in the world, they don’t give a fuck about the musical industry (do they really?) they play in some weird places out in the woods, musically they beat their own records and they can put on a show that can compete with the current greatest. All of it was worth the 2hours drive to get there, the walk in the fields and the cold of a late September swiss night.
Radiohead, music for your (tormented) soul.
Logistics and organization: I never did this but this time it was totally worth it, the people in charge of this event where either criminal minds or had a very scarce business mindset. I’ve never been to Caprices festival but I really hope that the organization in Crans Montana is better (and in fact I never heard any complaint about it). On the other side I’ve never seen so many complaints about the organization like this time. Organizing busses for and from the location was a lovely and environmental caring idea if it wasn’t for the fact that bus frm Geneva arrived there after the beginning of the Caribou warm-up set and most importantly people had to wait for more than 2 hours (!) in the cold in the middle of nowhere with very little information at the end of the concert when busses weere missing and nobody had a clue of how to come back. I would like to understand as well who was the genius who had the idea of paying drinks and food with vouchers (even Montreux jazz abandoned this idea), queues were 100m long (no jokes) slow as hell and you had to queue twice: once for vouchers, once for food and potentially once more for beers. ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!!! Is this middle age? What was the purpose starve everybody and do not sell beers? Thanks God for them the music overcome all the negatives, if this would have happened in UK riots would have kicked-off everywhere. Amateurs!