Kid Koala – Buyahoga Falls – Blossom Music Center, Ohio – 2001-08-08

Kid Koala
Where: Buyahoga Falls – Blossom Music Center, Ohio.

When: 2001-08-08

After years of waiting, they finally came. Radiohead, masters of irritating friends and foes alike, are finally making their first proper North American tour since the glumfest that was recorded on Grant Gee’s 1998 documentary, Meeting People Is Easy. The band, suspiciously absent from the touring circuit after 2000s Kid A, vowed that their new tour (following 2001s Amnesiac) would be done on their terms: amphitheaters, a very relaxed schedule, and precious little pandering to fan favorites. So far, so good: all reports tell of an invigorated band, turning their studio creations into vibrant live numbers and smiling a whole hell of a lot more than they have in years.

Being Delusions’ resident Radiohead freak, I felt obligated to hike three hours down to Cleveland to catch England’s favorite noisemongers (their schedule was apparently a bit too relaxed to visit the greater Detroit area). Blossom Music Center was the chosen destination, and it was an exceedingly nice place: a large, woodsy, outdoor amphitheater with a few thousand seats under a pavilion and a few thousand more out on the hill behind it (I’m not going to venture a guess at the total people, but the venue was sold out). The only problem with the place was that the only road leading to it was a slow, one-lane strip of hell more suited to lazy Sunday drives than, say, a few thousand impatient Radiohead fans. Traffic was so slow that I missed all of the Beta Band’s reportedly short set and all but about 10 minutes of Kid Koala’s turntable antics (he sounded fine, mixing up a trippy version of “Fitter Happier,” among other things). But enough of the pre-show pandering – we all know what everyone was there for.

Radiohead walked onto the stage just past 9 o’clock to (predictably) uproarious applause, and without saying a word, launched into the evil bass throb of “The National Anthem.” Though the band didn’t have the horn section it takes to completely reproduce the song, they generated enough ripping feedback and guitar gurgles to keep things interesting – a good start, to say the least. The band then launched into the Kid A version of “Morning Bell,” a song that plays with dynamics and explodes even better live than on the album. Next came one of only two songs from The Bends, the psychedelic freakout of “My Iron Lung” and then the fan-favorite “Karma Police.” Continuing with the guitar-heavy songs, the band launched into faithful versions of “Knives Out,” “Optimistic,” and “Climbing Up the Walls” (which was absolutely creepy). The tension was broken up a bit live after a false start of “No Surprises,” with Thom politely telling the band to start the song over again.

After “No Surprises,” the band launched into a breathtaking version of “Dollars and Cents,” a live song that outdoes its studio partner by about 10-fold. After bass-heavy reworking of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” the band played the absolutely incredible “Exit Music.” Near silence filled the room during the acoustic opening, and the entire place swayed with the song as it exploded into its melodic drone. They followed that admirably with the bluesy “I Might Be Wrong” before settling into the home stretch of the main set: an elegiac “Pyramid Song,” a ferocious “Paranoid Android,” a spastic “Ideoteque” that found Thom running around the stage, dancing and taunting the crowd, and a hypnotic “Everything in its Right Place,” whose samples whirred around the venue long after the band left the stage. Encore time.

The first encore opened with a real surprise. Thom told the audience that if they could name the next song about halfway through they were “doing OK.” He then started playing a gorgeous, cyclical piano melody accented by occasional bursts from Colin Greenwood’s bass. It was obvious when the words kicked in: they were playing “Like Spinning Plates,” the mostly ambient, textured keyboard number from the end of Amnesiac (this was the first time they’d ever played it live). A glorious, perfect version of “Lucky” followed that, then the hamfisted piano buildup of “You & Whose Army” and the spatial ballad, “How to Disappear Completely.” The band once again exited, and then once again entered to stunning applause. They turned the trip-hop thump of “Talk Show Host” into a raging guitar number before closing an incredible set with a marvelous version of “Street Spirit (Fade Out).”

Perhaps the greatest testament to Radiohead’s ability as a live band is their uncanny knack for turning studio songs – songs that they have no business playing live – into compelling crowd favorites. “The National Anthem,” “Dollars and Cents,” “Everything in its Right Place,” and “Like Spinning Plates” are all perfect examples. It should put to rest all accusations that Radiohead are merely an indulgent studio band out of tough with their fans. Ironically, they are one of the few bands on the planet that know how to construct a setlist to include fan favorites, band favorites, and appropriate songs to open with, close with, and mix into the encores. It’s encouraging to know that the world’s best studio hermits haven’t yet forgotten how to play their songs. Believe it or not, Radiohead put on a fantastic rock show.