Radiohead brought its alt-rock mastery to U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on July 25, as part of a North American extension added to its A Moon Shaped Pool tour that began in May of 2016.
Total disclaimer here: It has become impressively difficult to score a hall pass to see a concert these days. Family obligations, kids and work all conspire to keep one home, especially on weekday nights. It takes a special show to come along, which was the case with Radiohead’s recent stop in Cincinnati.
The majority of this tour was scheduled outside the United States, so I jumped early at the chance to catch these blokes in Atlanta on April 1, 2017.
Still, when the band announced in February the addition of 14 dates in eight U.S. cities, including Cincinnati, a mere 90 minutes from my house in Kentucky – I was animated by the possibilities.
Six years had passed since Radiohead last played Cincinnati on June 5, 2012 at Riverbend on The King of Limbs tour. Regardless, it remained a game-time decision on whether I could pull off attending this July show. A good friend of mine and fellow mutant, Montgomery, was down for the challenge. He’s a Grateful Dead devotee, and not terribly familiar with Radiohead aside from reputation. I was not sure how that would play out considering the contemplative nature of the band’s material, but it actually worked beautifully.
Since the Dead have their own atmospheric way of taking over a room, with a fearless nature of pushing experimental boundaries and the parallel use of psychedelic visuals – enough familiarity transferred to make Radiohead accessible to the uninitiated.
Here was the kicker. The U.S. Bank venue, formerly Riverfront Coliseum (think The Who disaster in 1979), offered general admission floor access. For those with a wandering spirit, it allows one to push into the crowd if closer to the stage is desired, twirl about like a fool in the back or shift vantage points throughout the concert. The point being options are available and it keeps claustrophobia to a minimum.
The week of the show floor seats increased in cost to around $120. That was out of my budget. But day of show at around 5:30PM, when we needed to be getting in a car and driving to Cincinnati, prices plunged to $62 on StubHub, well under face value.
This fortuitous turn of events cranked up the volume on our adrenaline, leading to some rather outrageous pre-game festivities. It’s always humorous when you get two people together who don’t say “NO” very often. It leaves a lot of territory open for consumption. I wager to say our appetites that fine evening would have even made Master Yoda’s Jedi mind flip.
I mean we were in Ohio at that point anyway. After considerable juggling and fancy footwork on my part to clear waivers and secure a clean exit from my household – it seemed we owed it to ourselves to make the most of our hard earned Wednesday night freedom.
From the jump Radiohead did not disappoint. The opening song, Daydreaming, kept the arena bathed in darkness with its stark vocal and piano accompaniment, until blooming midway through, when pinpoint rays of brilliant white light radiated from the stage. Slowly the video screens and LED panels began coming to life, like a cascade. With Radiohead the atmospherics and scene setting for each track are co-equal with the music.
Early set highlights included Hail to the Thief’s cutting 2 + 2 = 5 and the fuzzy feedback of Myxomatosis. The cautionary tale of Lucky, with the signature weeping guitar work of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, came in at track nine, from the 1997 disc OK Computer.
Near the midway point of the 25-song set came the optimistic Everything in its Right Place from Kid A (2000). Tightly knit percussion is a hallmark of Radiohead’s music, courtesy of Philip Selway, and in live performances he is joined by Clive Deamer. Their dual percussion attack stood tall all evening. It was their ominous beats that forewarned the crowd that Reckoner, the creepy cool track from In Rainbows (2007) was upon us.
The icy coolness of Idioteque came in at selection 15, and set up one of my two top highlights for the concert with the playing of A Wolf at the Door. This is a deep cut off Hail to the Thief (2003), and was only played five times on the entire tour.
My other big highlight came during the first encore with Talk Show Host, a 1996 B-side on the Street Spirit (Fade Out) EP, a trippy track and not one often heard.
Encore two brought us the title track from 1995’s The Bends, a more traditionally structured rock-n-roll tune than much of what was heard that evening and always well received by Radiohead faithful. The closer was Karma Police, off their seminal avant grade third disc Ok Computer. It arguably is the tune that pushed them into the next stratosphere of fame, and the CD earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year.
The show was an absolute blast. What makes radiohead special is not just their ability to play so clean, and give concertgoers such a full audio and visual spectacle, but that the songs themselves are so strong that even if one didn’t know these tracks, midway through each one the band has won listeners over. They sell themselves.
With the show concluded, Cincinnati was our oyster to explore. The car needed to stay parked a bit longer before a journey home was even contemplated.
I have this affinity for imbibing in plush accommodations after rock-n-roll shows. The Cincinnati Hilton offered just such a location with its palatial art deco decored Palm Court Bar. It was full of Radiohead-ers getting their drinks on. Montgomery and I sipped cold beers and took in the scene as we gathered our feet back under us. While amusing and full of eye candy, we required musical accompaniment, of a variety not to be found at the Palm Court. We needed gritty and we needed a professional drinking establishment.
By chance we passed just such a tavern walking to the the Palm Court. O’Malley’s in the Alley (and it was situated down an alley), is Cincinnati’s second oldest bar and open for more than 100 years. This joint was full of raucous drinkers till they spilled out the front, many of whom had attended the concert and were retelling their favorite bits. We were greeted walking in to the familiar sound of Radiohead emanating from the jukebox. Indeed we had found a home for the evening.
Standing sassily behind the bar was an absolute show-stopper. Tall and piercing in fairness, armed with a bottle of Irish Whiskey and not afraid to pour it heartily was Brooke, a Warrior Princess of the first order. She held fierce command over this bar with her sexy as hell tattoos snaking down her willowy arms.
We had been doing well with our new found moderation – until the Jagermeister. It was Montgomery’s turn to buy and the beers were on the way, but his eye caught the Jagermeister machine in the corner that dispensed ice-chilled shots of this dark viscous liquor. There is something about its distinctive green hue that shines out in a dimly lit bar. For a minute it sounded like a good idea, but Jager is toxic. It can cause an otherwise rational individual to loose all power of speech, mobility and sense God gave a door knob.
My friend was traveling a path I could not follow, at least not if we wanted to drive home. Yet I felt compelled to participate, so I turned to Brooke and told her hard pass on the Jager, but Maker’s Mark would do. She filled a disposable plastic cup nearly halfway up with this fine 90-proof Kentucky bourbon; at least a double shot. Things got blurry after that.
We became fast friends with a group of Cincinnati Reds’ fans visiting from St. Louis, who also were sipping Jagermeister, but preferred downing foo-foo shots, like Red Headed Sluts and such. Suddenly a variety of shots started arriving on the bar. That combo went about as well as you might imagine.
We did make it back to Kentucky, but not until around 6AM, just in time to hit the shower and get ready for work. That Thursday was one of the most painful days I’ve ever had the displeasure of working in my life.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.