Radiohead: Last of the Greats

Rock n roll is dead. Sure, there will always be musicians playing and producing what can be categorized as “rock music”. But Rock n Roll – the cultural force, social movement, the music itself – faded to black some time around the turn of the millennium.

But it had a good run. 50 years of youthful rebellion, 50 years of sound and fury. Rock n roll changed the world. It helped end the Soviet Union, and helped cross the “color line”, which lead to the civil rights movement. Perhaps most important, rock n roll inspired a generation of kids to do a ton of psychedelics (note: not narcotics), and to question, well, everything. Can’t we agree, that anything that inspires people to think and do something out of the ordinary, does more good than not?

Rock n’ roll was so much more than just the music – but the music was enough. It is everything inside of us, turned outward. Anger, yearning, fear, aggression, love, lust, sex, rage – made manifest in a guitar solo, or a frontman’s soaring voice.

I was fortunate enough to see Radiohead three times this summer, once in New York, their last show at Madison Square Garden, and the final two stops of their tour in Philly. These guys have been around for a while now – 2018 marks twenty-five years. It has been over twenty years since Ok Computer (1997), arguably their peak, and nearly twenty since 2000’s Kid A. On those two landmark records, life in the “Information Age” is explored, the anxiety, confusion, madness, and exhilaration of it all– so maybe it’s not so surprising that these themes still resonate and will continue to.

I was still a bit surprised to see most of the concertgoers were young, with a good chunk being Millennials (early twenties to late thirties, roughly), but its fitting really – our generation has had to contend with the New World more than any other. These guys will continue to garner new and younger listeners. Not only are the songs timeless (and more deeply felt with lived experience), but people are searching for something real, something they aren’t finding in their supposedly interconnected, “social” lives. There is a real craving for a particular vision of life, call it authenticity or truth, and Radiohead, who has never been afraid to dive into the deepest end of the pool, with weights strapped on at that, is ready, willing, and able to serve it to us in droves.

Some of these guys (and girls, but I suspect most were just accompanying boyfriends), like me, had been to two, three, four, or more shows – that summer alone. This is a band that you either love – follow to the ends of the Earth – or just simply don’t care for and will never give a proper try. That in itself, may be a sign of greatness.

Still, I think almost anyone could benefit from a listen to In Rainbows.

What I saw and experienced this summer on those three dates were five musicians in their prime after playing together for over thirty years. Maybe I’m biased, but it’s one thing to hear the records, its another to see a band you’ve admired and loved for a very long time perform the songs, mere feet away from you, perhaps as they were truly meant to be heard and experienced. They were pretty much divine experiences. The men who wrote the soundtrack to my life (yes, specifically my life, they wrote it all just for me) were on that small stage playing like they had everything in the world to prove. No pyrotechnics, no five hundred back-up dancers, no costume changes. Just five guys with some guitars, synthesizers, two pairs of drums, and their otherworldly talent doing what they do best, with boundless energy, passion, and drive.

Radiohead may stand as the last great rock band, and perhaps even the last great artists in popular music. There have been very few, if any, contenders, as of late. There was a post punk/garage rock revival in the early 2000s that brought us interesting bands like The Strokes, White Stripes, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. M.I.A. brought third world consciousness to first world radios. So yes, there have been a few artists who’ve made their mark these past two decades, but nobody else has consistently outdone themselves more than these five guys from Oxford.

 

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