Concert Review – Radiohead, 12 Nov 12, Sydney

It’ll likely be sacrilegious for a Radiohead fan, but what I want to talk about in this review is the set. It was the most amazing set I’ve ever seen for a concert (and both Lady Gaga and Prince pulled out the stops for their concerts this year). Before the concert started, it looked like there might not be anything at all on stage. You could see some instruments lying around, but that was about it. Would it really be just them playing on a stage?

But no, as soon as it started, I recognised the set from a concert video that’s been circulating on youtube, that D sent me before the concert. They stand in front of a soaring wall of lights, the bottom third with a jewelled grid effect, and above that, a different sort of vertical lighting that went up to the ceiling. In front, at the top were 6 square panels, which started with square two-dimensional barcodes, a reference either to scanning in or consumerism. And suspended above Radiohead were 12 TV panels, very high definition that were raised and lowered into different configurations, sometimes flat, and othertimes at angles.

The effect of these panels was incredible and though it was a simple technique: that the panels often had a close-up of Thom Yorke signing, or the drummer’s hands, or a guitarist, but it felt the most original way of bringing the audience into the music. It wasn’t a simple set of televised images, so that those in seats further away could see what was happening. We were brought multiple aspects of what was happening on stage, breathing and pumping, alternating with images and colours.

And then the light show. I kept on thinking while watching: how to describe this? Would I be able to afterwards? Perhaps not, but I can try. The particular colour combinations used during various songs, pulsing and flashing and changing, were like crazy memories from all parts of your life, your dreams, nightmares and sub-conscious. The colour of volcanic explosions, or deep oceans. Hot bright pinks. The flash of old cameras. Everything in sepia tones. This one with the references of the covers and colours of old jazz albums. It felt like dozens of cultural references at once, but taken out of context, and swept into the music, hard for me to identify any of what was happening.

Of course, the other sacrilege is that I don’t know Radiohead’s music very well. So, the next most interesting thing to me after the amazing set was to experience the cultural phenomenon of Radiohead. The music is not pop or conventional, the rhythms shift and change quickly, so the usual collective sway and motion of an audience was absent here. Everyone was moving to Radiohead in their own way (or not moving at all): all rapt in attention but in a weird collective and individual experience of the music. Nearer to the end of the nearly 2.5 hr set, there were a few more songs with recognisable lyrics and melodies, a song structure, but much of it felt like this enormous wave of dark emotion and energy that hit mainly at an unconscious level. And how could it not sweep by the brain when the vibrations of the low bass were making all the organs in my body pulse at the same time as what was happening on stage?

An amazing experience.

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