Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sail to the moon

The two-lane road that leads to Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron usually listed as Cleveland in tour listings, takes you into the woods and seemingly far removed from civilization. The unpaid parking lots are hilly and unlabeled patches of grass scattered among the grounds that one hopes to recognize when looking for the car after the concert.

This natural backdrop provided a wonderful setting for more than 20,000 in the sold out crowd to watch Radiohead, whose music might best be described as lullabies for robots in a dystopian future. (Or, to use a lazy, not-entirely-accurate comparison that might be useful for the uninitiated, they share some similarities with Pink Floyd and could be said to play art rock.)

My ticket gained admittance to the pit, the open area directly in front of the stage. I knew I lucked into one of the best spots in the house, but walking into the pit slapped me with the realization that I was going to be experiencing a shed show as though I was in a club. The ticket price had seemed reasonable to me considering what other concerts this size cost. Now it seemed like a bargain.

Opening act Grizzly Bear, a critically-acclaimed indie band whose name I knew but music I'd never heard, played a low-key set for 45 minutes that helped set the atmosphere. I imagine they sounded better from my vantage point as they must have been washed out for those at the back of the pavilion, not to mention concertgoers at the rear of the spacious lawn.

Thirty minutes later Radiohead came out. They opened with "15 Step" from In Rainbows, an album performed entirely over the course of the show, and off we were transported for a little more than two hours.

Radiohead is a band that concentrates on crafting albums moreso than singles, so I can often be bad at identifying song titles. I knew everything they played, but I would have been hard-pressed to name the songs. I remember the dynamics here, sonic strokes there, as well as the timbre of Thom Yorke's often operatic singing. Not to discount lyrics, but Radiohead is very much about atmosphere to me.

With a dazzling light show accompanying the music, there was atmosphere aplenty. The spectacle enhanced the experience, but I also have to give credit to something that probably sounds like a dirty word in rock n' roll: professionalism. Yorke mostly eschewed stage banter, and the band quickly segued from one song to the next like a well-oiled machine. This was no small feat considering the number of instrument changes, sometimes within a song, yet it all went off without a hitch or a lag in the flow.

I don't know that I've ever watched a band play their instruments as closely as I did during this concert. I was on Ed O'Brien's side and was intrigued to see how his guitar playing technique changed depending on the song. On one he was strumming the strings at the very top of the neck to get the necessary tone.

Then there was multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood. He played his guitar with a bow. He picked the strings with a violence that would have seemingly torn them off. (Aside: I never would have thought it, but after Monday night I'm convinced "Paranoid Android" is destined for the rarified air of rock's defining songs.) It wasn't uncommon for him to play three instruments in one song. He had a panel of knobs that he would fiddle with like a mad scientist trying to tweak his experiment and a large remote control that looked like something out of a 1950s science fiction film. Seeing how Greenwood and his bandmates create sonic textures was as exciting as the flashing lights.

The fluidity of the concert permitted a feeling of transcendence to creep in. Even without the visual stimulation it was easy to get lost in the wash of guitars, electronic sounds, and Yorke's lilting voice. I can't ignore the fact that my proximity to the stage had a significant impact on my concertgoing experience. Nevertheless, it's extremely rare for me to go to a concert and have the music make everything else fade away. Great band, great concert.

(For one other pic, check out yesterday's post.)

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1 Comments:

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Blossom, eh? Fun place!

Hey - I've been MIA while my pc was in the shop three times!

I'm back and now I'm waaay behind in blog reading, so I'm just starting fresh.

Hope all is well w/ you, stranger!

 

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