Lollapalooza 2008 Day 1: Radiohead
I saw Radiohead eight times between 1997 and 2001. I saw Radiohead from the first row of the Rosemont Theatre and in front of a church in Florence. I saw Radiohead play a secret show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., where Brad Pitt squatted in a balcony awkwardly slapping the railing to the beat of "Paranoid Android." I saw the debut of a 12-minute, keyboard-heavy version of "How To Disappear Completely," and I've seen Michael Stipe sing "Lucky" for the band twice. But the band's legendary last appearance in Grant Park, almost seven years to the day, was my last experience with the Oxford A-leaguers. Despite feeling quite satisfied in my live consumption of Radiohead, the Lollapalooza headlining slot brought back geeky teen shivvers of excitement. They have two full records of material that I've never seen performed live. Oh, and those pretty, carbon-neutral shafts of light.
Several classic "festival moments" presented themselves in the performance. Most notably, fireworks exploded over the Field Museum as the band kicked into "The Bends," and the climatic finale of the sky pyrotechnics magically timed up with the big bang of Jonny Greenwood's guitar in "Fake Plastic Trees." Drunken fools climbed atop trash cans and shoulders to snap cellphone shots as a helicopter circled above. The band played impeccably as always (despite a rough patch of Yorke's vocals early on in "Airbag" that had me worried his sickness from early in the week had not abated), covering all of In Rainbows, a large chunk of OK Computer and the mentioned gems from The Bends. Those nifty shafts of color emulated rain in multiple mesmerizing ways (it rains a lot in Radiohead songs). And yet the hairs never stood up on the back of my neck. The performance left me feeling rather empty. And it's entirely because of the setting.
Festivals are a fine way to take in bands you enjoy, but a horrible way to take in those you truly cherish. Save for the pack of superfans pushed up close, 50,000 people were forced to deal with chatty frat boys and drunk yuppies. During "Nude" I endured a debate between Cubs fans over whether one of the bros looked like rookie reliever Jeff Samardzija (he didn't). During "Bodysnatchers" a dad in a Tommy Bahama button-down did the White Man's Overbite Twist. Now, I don't expect the hushed sacrosanct atmosphere of a cathedral, but could you just for a second stop yelling about how wasted you are? Perhaps face the stage? The problem is, in this massive package deal of a festival, most concertgoers go about their music consumption much more casually. Standing within earshot of the stage and being able to text friends the setlist now counts as "seeing the band." Hey, you heard 12 bands—money's worth right there. Festivals are as different from indoor concerts as an array of TVs in Best Buy are from the cinema. I had a blast throughout the entire day, but when my fanboy favorite took the stage, I turned into one of those cranky critics who bemoan festivals. How have the Brits done this for so long?
The sound paled in comparison to the clear, amazingly intimate mix of the 2001 Grant Park gig. It even felt flip-flopped to have the band facing North, as the new One Museum Park condo tower on Columbus obviously can't match the backdrop of our city's skyline. With rising fuel costs, these Costco concerts will more and more become the way to take in bands. Like skipping through shuffle mode on an iPod, music fans can take in dozens of acts in one swift go—but it's never as satisfactory as digging into an album on headphones. I have no problem with concerts being corporate-funded and commercial, just a problem with them being commercials. As I wandered around the field during the encore, seeing burnt-out teens sitting on the dark Myspace stage, kicking crushed cups under my feet, I didn't feel like I had just seen a great show—I felt hungry for a straight-up Radiohead concert.
Photo: Erica Gannett. See more Lollapalooza Day 1 pictures on our Flickr stream.