Everything In Its Right Place

Radiohead Live In Concert, East Troy, Wisconsin, 8/23/03

by Sean McCarthy

"I can't believe, out of all the bloody places to see Radiohead… bloody Wisconsin…" muttered Nick, a Londoner who flew stateside to see the band, to me in the lawn section of Alpine Valley Music Theatre on a crisp, cloudless Saturday night.

He had me beat. We only drove nine hours from Omaha. But for the summer of 2003, this was THE act to catch. Four years after cocooning themselves with computer processors and brief stateside appearances, Radiohead released their "pop" album, Hail To The Thief and reviews from abroad and in the states have hailed this tour as possibly their best ever.

The surprisingly hippie-heavy crowd gave a lukewarm reception to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, who performed a poppy opening set, reminiscent of late-era Replacements. Even if the band is not for everyone's taste, they deserved a better reception than they received. After all, they did break up nearly two-hours of pre-concert bad reggae music. That alone deserved a standing ovation. However, most people were too obsessed with trying to look hip by showing off their indie t-shirts. The best t-shirt of the night went to a curly-haired twenty-something who had the courage and innovation to sport an Aaron Carter t-shirt.

After hearing Malkmus and two hours of reggae, I was expecting the field I was standing in to turn into a moshing blood zone as Radiohead took the stage and began to crescendo into the climax of "2+2=5," a perfect opener that gave a hint that the show would focus heavily on the new album. No chaos ensued, just the jumping up and down of hardcore Radiohead fans.

Jonny Greenwood seemed elated to have a chance to give his guitar a workout as he lacerated his instrument through "2+2=5," "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Just." Even though the band has expertly translated the computer-heavy sounds of Kid A and Amnesiac to live environments, Hail to the Thief marks a definite return to the guitar-oriented attack of Radiohead's earlier albums. The band has focused so heavily on the guitar attack on this tour that lead singer Thom Yorke had an acoustic or electric guitar in tow more often than not throughout most of the set.
Photos courtesy of Phil Bonyata

Even though the audience exploded in cheers and sing-along enthusiasm to such classics as "Paranoid Android" and "Just," most of the new album received an equally loud reception, giving hope that Hail to the Thief may one day stand as another masterstroke in Radiohead's catalog and not just a "Well at least it's not Kid A" type of album to fans. The fans even playfully engaged in the off-timed claps of "We Suck Young Blood."

Like Bob Dylan, Radiohead has been able to perform sometimes radical variations of their songs in a live setting as opposed to what is on vinyl (or CD). Mercifully, the band is tight enough to know the difference between giving different versions of songs like "Kid A" and "Idioteque" and turning songs into endless, self-indulgent jam sessions. And with a near-perfect balance of new material and old favorites, Radiohead's set list was what most fans would wish. However, that was also the only blemish of an otherwise perfect night; with the exception of opening the first encore with "You and Whose Army?" there was little surprise to Radiohead's set, just a whole lot of satisfaction.

Photo courtesy of Phil Bonyata

Thom Yorke has never been as standoffish as the media painted him in live performances, even during the Amnesiac tour. But during this set, he was downright giddy. On the pulsating "Idioteque," Yorke's spastic dance was both silly and hypnotic. During "You and Whose Army?," a rather tense, intimidating song, Yorke repeatedly mugged in front of the camera, winking and smirking like a lounge singer. At times, Yorke had an elated grin that seemed quite genuine. When the band came back to play "Karma Police" in the second encore, it sounded as fresh and vital as it did in 1997. And after listening to the opening chords of "The National Anthem," it would be hard for even the most die-hard OK Computer fan to say "Kid A was not a rock album."

The show closed with "Everything In Its Right Place," and after a nearly two-hour set, everything was to the fans. The rather minimal set (about ten narrow, vertical light beams and a few projection screens), glowed red as Radiohead performed a faithful, but moving version of the song. At the end, the band took a bow as "Forever" scrolled from the screen; a true rock star moment. But for a band that has challenged its fans and has assumed the mantle of "Best Rock Band In The World" with admirable maturity, they earned this Bic-lighter moment.

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