Finally it was Radiohead Day. We arrived in Atlanta Friday night – dined impeccably at Noble Fin that evening, and Saturday at the Atlanta Breakfast Club, taken in whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium, but those were merely fringe benefits of making this 400-mile journey south. We were here to see Radiohead play a sold out concert at Philips Arena Saturday evening.
I was psyched by the new disc, A Moon Shaped Pool. It was more direct and up than the previous King of Limbs, and less ambient. This new tour opened in America, but only 11 shows would be played in the states, with the predominance of the dates overseas. Atlanta was my closest opportunity.
I last saw Radiohead in 2012 at Riverbend in Cincinnati on the King of Limbs tour. These boys don’t get out often, and the last few times I’ve seen them it has been outdoors. This would be a stand-alone show under a roof, allowing all the energy to stay contained.
Tickets for Atlanta went on sale Inauguration Day in January. I was off work, home watching the awfulness in Washington, DC unfold and monitoring Ticketmaster. I felt obligated to salvage a sense of civility by scoring tickets, in the midst of the despair witnessed by Trump ascending to the White House. This was no easy feat, as Philips Arena sold out instantly. I quickly turned to the brisk secondary market on Stub Hub, and was able to secure respectable lower bowl seats at a premium.
Radiohead is not a new band but they set themselves apart from others in that they remain in a calculated state of flux. Like their music, the band itself is divergent. Members are constantly shifting and shaping with the times, using technology and skill to develop a different sound and invent a new dynamic.
Most bands are one trick ponies. They are what they are, and they play the same sound till the creativity is gone and greatest hits shows are all that’s left. Whereas Radiohead creates its own energy force through reinvention, keeping the sound fresh and the interests of the musicians thriving.
Formed in 1985, casual observers know Radiohead for Creep, their 1992 debut single, and its inclusion on the subsequent first disc, Pablo Honey (1993). Creep became one of the definitive anthems of the fledgling 1990s alternative rock movement. Their reputation solidified with The Bends, its impressive sophomore release that saw the band pull away from grunge, and produce the epic, Fake Plastic Trees. But it was the third release, OK Computer, from 1997, that established Radiohead as international rock stars.
It’s easy to say Radiohead is the current generation’s Pink Floyd. They are different animals, but the social commentary is present in both, along with the trippedelic aspects. When a band like either of these hits the road I treat it like a happening. It’s a celebration to get the opportunity to be in a room with these boys. Watching them work these massive layered tunes up live is breathtaking. As a fan of psychedelic music, anytime I can venture through the mind’s eye of Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards) and witness the brilliance of their audio & visual effects play out, I’m there with bells on.
Trust my buzz was fully engaged. It was an all-day affair, pre-gaming since waking with breakfast drinks. Things were going to get psychedelic, so I chose to sport a necklace of blue LED light-up dolphins. I arbitrarily purchased them that afternoon at the Georgia Aquarium. You never know when you might need light in a dark space, said anyone who has walked the moors at night.
Philips Arena is situated across from the Georgia Dome and is home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. It is sleek, modern and full of flavor. Maia and I walked around for a minute seeking Kentucky bourbon to mix with that fabulous Atlanta soda pop, Coca-Cola. None could be found. Only Crown Royal. Finally Maker’s Mark was spotted and two double Maker’s & Coke’s were ours at $20 a pop.
If the stage was at 12 o’clock, our seats were at 5 o’clock, perfect to take in all the visuals and stage antics. Yorke welcomed fans with Daydreaming off the new disc. The band played it straight with a solitary light on them for half the song before a sea of white pinspot rays pierced the darkness like a disco ball.
Three straight songs led off from the new disc before a jump to light speed came with Airbag from OK Computer, followed by the single My Iron Lung from The Bends. Joining Airbag was Paranoid Android, Subterranean Homesick Alien, and Karma Police – all massive tunes from OK Computer, which is being celebrated on this tour to mark its 20th anniversary.
Other highlights included: Street Spirit (Fade Out); Idioteque; the tour debut of House of Cards from In Rainbows, marking the first playing of it since 2012; Burn the Witch; and You and Whose Army. Atlanta made for the perfect backdrop to such a monster rock-n-roll show, and the knowledgeable crowd, many traveling from Nashville and Birmingham, responded with tremendous energy throughout.
Yorke’s spastic dance moves were unveiled 12 songs into the set with Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner) off Hail to the Thief. Seemingly overtaken by trance, Yorke’s body began to gyrate and undulate in vertical waves moving him back and forth across the stage, as he punched holes in the air.
This English alternative rock band formed in 1985 while attending school together in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Twenty five years and nine albums later Yorke, Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O’Brien (guitars, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass), and Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals) continue to impress.
Radiohead, like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd are different every time out of the box. They teach listeners the value of patience. Hold on tight, the journey to the crescendos will be winding, but some of the best stuff happens in these in-between moments.
Radiohead put its mellifluous brilliance on full display in Atlanta. It’s hallmark of ethereal diffusion was perfected with the band’s innovative musicianship, curated special effects, and simmering intensity throughout a 25 song set and three encores.
Outside a confluence of enthusiasm hit the Atlanta streets. My blue dolphin lights were blazing away, and had a Pied Piper effect as followers joined us marching to Centennial Olympic Park. Passing the CNN studios how could I not climb on the iconic red letters out front. I was informed the police frown on such behavior so we made it quick.
A block down, glowing like a beacon in the night was Skyview Atlanta. This was another take on the giant urban Farris Wheel. It was a big sucker, with crazy lighting. All the trippers spilled from Philips Arena to this spot in search of thrills. It just happened to also be prom night. Tux-clad seniors escorted their taffeta-challenged dates into enclosed viewing pods with wide-eyed Radiohead attendees. Bet those were some fun conversations.
Maia and I continued to walk deeper into the peace of Olympic Park. The lights diminished and sounds faded. Only water sliding over rocks accompanied us. Yet Radiohead lifted my spirit into the clear Atlanta night, reminding me that we would all be Okay.