I don't remember the first time I knew I was in love with someone. I don't remember the first time I drove a car, the first time I drank (or at least anything past the first half hour) and I have done all I can to forget the first time I had sex. I can, however, recall with vivid recollection the first time I heard Radiohead.
An impressionable early teen with a lanky stride and head full of ill-advised Kurt Cobain-modeled hair, I sat slack-jawed and acne-covered staring at the TV screen. Watching a man in a suit lying on a sidewalk mouthing words I'll never know, I was instantly hooked. The video was the incendiary clip for ìJust,î a song that changed everything I knew and wanted from modern music in one scaling riff.
Since then my obsession with the band has grown. After OK Computer monopolized my mid- to late-teenage musical intake, I've greeted each subsequent album a similarly unhealthy amount of attention.
Aafter hearing about a series of intimate dates that the band had booked to road check new material, I proceeded to lose my shit. Heading to a bar with some co-workers the following day, I launched into a lengthy and impassioned drunken rant about my need to see these shows. Luckily, seated at my table was someone with more contacts than the usual bar-goer, and after spending about five minutes on a Blackberry (most likely to shut me up) I had tickets.
Skip ahead a month and the trip was in motion. Since air travel, for me, is about as appealing as bathing in a tub of cobras, I rented a car. After 18 hours of driving, three Quarter Pounder meals, a shady hotel room in Trois Rivere and the onset of a nasty head cold, I arrived in Toronto three hours before the first show.
The Hummingbird Centre was the venue for the Ontario dates. A relatively small, soft seat theatre, I walked in at the close of opening act Willy Mason's impressive country-folk set. After about 40 minutes of down time the lights went out again and Radiohead took the stage.
Walking out in near darkness, they settled into the beginning of ìYou and Whose Army.î As frontman Thom Yorke sang the opening bars, his face was projected on several randomly shaped screens at the back of the stage. Coming to the climax he smiled into the camera, gave a sly lift of his eyebrows, and then the band dropped in at full volume—unfortunately, so did the douche bags in front of me.
"Radiohead for President."
"I love you Tommy."
These were some of the choice quotes that were thrown out on top of an attempt to start a 'clap along' to the melancholic opening of ìExit Music,î an interpretive dance to ìLuckyî and endless chest slams during the opening notes of any song with a video. Battling back with my only sure-fire weapon, sarcasm, I unleashed a vicious verbal tirade against themÖthat probably would have been much more effective if not quietly whispered during a rock show.
Still, the music's strength pulled through. New songs ì15 Step,î ìOpen Pick,î ìVideotape,î ìBodysnatchers,î ìBangers'n Mash,î ìNude,î ìArpeggiî and ì4 Minute Warningî all were mind blowing, but with only a few viewings of each on YouTube prior to the show, it was difficult to take in the scope of their unique sound.
A day, two near-collisions with tractor trailers and several hours spent wishing I paid more attention in grade 8 French class later, I arrived in Montreal. After meeting up with some friends, I headed to the venue in time to catch a great set from opening act The Black Keys. A blues/rock two-piece, they won an anxious crowd over quickly with their enthusiastic minimalism.
The night's audience looked like the writers for a highbrow music publication, rather than Toronto's attendees, who looked more like the writers of a high school math exam. Despite this, everyone was on their feet cheering before the lights went down.
From the start, Radiohead's set was much more impassioned than the previous one I had seen. Standout new tracks were the subtle soul leanings of ìNude,î the driving beat of ìBangers'n Mashî (which featured Yorke climbing on a second drum kit for the climax) and the surprisingly Rolling Stones/Coldplay flavoured ì4 Minute Warning.î Hail to the Thief's opening trackî 2+2=5î was another high point, delivering a brilliant intensity that the album version only hints at.
The next night's show found the band in the best form of all three performances. Running through unexpected old favourites such as ìNo Surprises,î ìPlanet Telexî and ìBlack Star,î the group never stopped looking like they were having a great time. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's leap onto stage for the second encore opener, ìSpooks,î was the peak of the band's high spirits.As he ran around the stage throwing off a riff that sounded like it was written by a mescaline dependent Dick Dale in 2075, it was apparent that the band's much touted inter-tension has lightened as of late. Other new songs ì15 Stepî and ìOpen Pickî made their charms more than apparent with the band delivering both in top form.
Still suffering from a head cold, road weary and with ears ringing, I headed home the following day. While it'll most likely be a year before any of the new songs are released, it's good to know with the miracle of mp3 bootlegs I can get back to jeopardizing both personal and professional relationships with my repeat button.