Friday, August 17, 2012


There's a band called The Yardbirds playing at City Winery next month. Go ahead, laugh how there's only two original members left and how neither of them is named Clapton, Beck or Page. If you're feeling especially cruel, you could even laugh that only one of those members (drummer Jim McCarty) is currently well enough to make the gigs. But the fact remains that the wonders of their Beck-era classics like Shapes Of Things, Heart Full of Soul, Still I'm Sad, Over Under Sideways Down, etc., are often used to delineate the moment when rock & roll became rock. Incorporating eastern modes, chants and British folk into a brew that never lost touch with the blues, here was where the music finally cut loose it's moorings from the world of Wynonie Harris and Hank Williams. Thanks to The Yardbirds (and of course The Beatles, The Who, etc.), a new plateau was reached, a launching pad for the rest of the century and beyond.

This is where Radiohead comes in. I checked a major item off my to do list on June 1 when the spectacular show they've had on the road this year touched down in Newark. I'm not going to give a blow by blow account or review as so much has already been said about Thom Yorke & Co., and this tour. Suffice it to say that reports of a religious experience are not overstating the case, which is especially amazing when you consider they were playing in an arena packed with 20,000 people. The King Of Limbs material sounded exponentially stronger and the set list was constructed with a DJ's ear. That said, there are a couple of musings that settled in my consciousness as I communed with their gorgeous music.

Two or three songs in, this thought: Radiohead represent the pinnacle of the power and promise of rock. They were born in a white hot flash on that launching pad in 1965 and they do not look back. Their sound incorporates the gamut of possibilities that have spiraled outward from that nebula, from chilly electronica to caustic Lennon-isms and from epic space rock to stripped Nick Drake. As wide as their spectrum is, they fairly well ignore black music, except for dub and reggae, and hip hop's distant edges of the chopped and the screwed. They do not boogie nor do they implore us to follow Spinal Tap's dictum to "Have a good time, all the time," but they are a rock band through and through.

And this is where the second thought drifted in: has any other group brought music of such subtlety, adventurousness, emotional depth and, goddammit, quality to an arena audience? I think not. And is that huge audience built on the back of the somewhat regrettable Creep? I also think not. Sure, Creep was a huge hit that fit the post-grunge playlists inhabited by the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Bush, but that was 20 years ago - many in the audience were still in Huggies at the time. The utopian in me feels that they draw the crowd because they deliver something that simply cannot be found elsewhere: an uncondescending look at alienation, loneliness, the magic of connection and the ability to triumph over those who would seek to destroy us - and all that to a non-pareil soundtrack of fascinating and involving music, anchored by Thom's liquid-honey tenor and main guitarist Jonny Greenwood's shooting-star sprays of sound.

My musical universe incorporates sounds from the dawn of time and around the world, a wider array than that encompassed by Radiohead's songs. But perhaps because my own time dawned near 1965 and 1966, and I grew up in the aftershocks of the big bangs of Rubber Soul, Roger The Engineer, et al, I feel a special connection to their music. In any case, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience Radiohead's trajectory from those miracle years to now, especially in a live setting. Hope to see you at the next show.

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