I know what everybody is wondering - what did Thom wear?
You will no doubt be thrilled to discover that Thom wore the strange red pants that I have previously scoffed at, thereby effectively thumbing his nose at my impeccable fashion sense, but I believe that this earth-shattering event was eclipsed by Jonny's apparent semi-beardedness. My world may never be the same again. I have been within hollering distance of Radiohead, separated only by 20,000 adoring fans.
There were of course other events that took place yesterday, including a really fascinating historical tour of the underground in Seattle's Pioneer Square, but I'm asking for your indulgence to tell you about that another day. Today we gush.
It was with a mixture of giddy anticipation and nervousness that we headed out three hours before concert time. We hadn't driven in a couple of days, hadn't driven through Seattle in rush hour ever and had conflicting directions (from the same site) on getting to the concert venue, located 30 miles south of Seattle. I needn't have worried, the combination of the Spousal Unit's Formula One sensibilities and my compulsive navigating got us through some horrendous I-5 traffic and to the White River Amphitheatre with enough time left to stop at the Pizza Hut in Auburn to wolf down a personal pan. You know you are on a proper road trip when you eat supper in a takeout only restaurant.
It had been raining heavily the entire 1.5 hour trip, but as we waited for our pizza, the rain stopped and a strong rainbow appeared in the sky. We all know by now that Radiohead have the power to control the weather; I took this rainbow as a promise for a sublime night.
We arrived at the massive White River Amphitheatre, parked in prearranged premier parking - a move that would later prove to be an incredibly well-spent $20 - and scooped up a couple of beautifully cryptic and unbelievably soft concert tees (a dirty mind and a blink) which are made from recycled plastic water bottles and organic cotton, and a mitt-full of aluminum water bottles.
The stage looked a long way away from our second last row seats, but we didn't care. I've seen enough photos from the tour to know that there would be some pretty astounding multi-angle footage projected onto the side screens for me to get my fill of closeups of finger work and facial expressions.
Liars opened right on time and did a pleasing job with their experimental and drum-heavy set.
And then, with background music that sounded like maybe Underworld providing a soundtrack to growing tension and anticipation, the sold out venue began to fill. As night came on, ropes of the now famous LED lights were swung into place, imparting upon the stage a decidedly digital atmosphere, befitting a Radiohead concert. The lights proved to be even more impressive and evocative in setting the atmosphere than I could ever have imagined. Throughout the night, these lights would take on a life of their own, punctuating blasts of guitar with brilliant shards of light, mutating colours to transform the mood onstage. They were like a sixth Radiohead member up there, and all the more impressive through the knowledge that this mind-bending light show was wrought with low wattage environmentally sound LEDs.
And then, after an eternity and a couple of false starts of roars from the crowd, the moment happened. Radiohead was standing before us. And without any preliminaries, Thom and Ed and Colin and Phil and Jonny launched into 15 Step. 20,000 people rose as one and cheered madly, and we remained standing the entire two hours, dancing, and clapping and singing and cheering.
For two solid hours, the members of Radiohead played with all their might, thrilling us with songs like:
15 Step (the RO and I did the YAY! part under our breaths and I swear I heard some others join in)
There There (making my life complete)
All I Need
Talk Show Host (having listened to this incessantly the last week, this thrilled me greatly)
The National Anthem (which I always think of as Colin's song because of the awesome baseline)
Lucky (which had us all singing "it's going to be a glo-ooo-oorious day")
Faust Arp (which had the audience roaring when Thom kept forgetting the words and then, to add insult to injury, also flubbed the words to the Neil Young song that he and Jonny started playing in between takes, finally culminating with a well-said "fuck it!")
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Climbing Up The Walls
Dollars and Cents
Until this point, the banter had been fairly none existent, with the band concentrating on blasting out song after song. There were a few exceptions, a "thanks for having us" and a "hi", which drew an enthusiastic hi! back from the crowd, the self-directed fuck it at the ill-fated attempt at Faust Arp, and a moment that made many a heart melt, Thom responding to a declaration from the audience with an "I love you too, darling".
This all changed with the encores. Thom began to take time between songs to address the audience, introducing Nigel Godrich ("this is Nigel. He makes our records.") who then proceeded to play tambourine (very capably too) on In Limbo. Yes, they played In Limbo.
The first encore was noteworthy for me, in that it finally provided the moment I had been longing for all night. The dancing. After some pretty enticing head bobbing and weaving all evening, with some provocative arm movements on a couple of occasions, Thom finally broke loose and laid down some pretty sweet funky moves on Idioteque, as I had prayed he would. Not even Thom can resist the siren's lure of that song. It was utterly glorious and now I can die happy.
How to Disappear Completely
Idioteque (my moment of heaven)
In Limbo (featuring Nigel Godrich on tambourine)
Street Spirit (so incredible to hear Thom's soaring vocals on this)
During the second encore, the rain which had been flirting and threatening for the past half hour, finally began in earnest. enough so that, despite the cover over our heads, we were starting to feel the rain blowing in from the back. At this point, Thom asked for the lights to be put on the people on the lawn - the uncovered area at the very back. As the spotlights lit up the lawn area, we could see that it was packed with people standing in the driving rain with no intention of going anywhere. They deserved the applause they received.
Notably though, the second encore started with a dedication from Thom to what he referred to as his favourite thing about Seattle - the people who had demonstrated against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999. Calling the WTO a criminal organization, Thom elicited a huge response from the crowd, as he stood in front of the Tibetan flag-draped equipment that was prominently displayed at the front of the stage. One of the beautiful things about a band like Radiohead is that not only are they the saviours of modern rock, but they approach life with the same dedication and perfectionism that they approach their music. They expect nothing less than the best and the most honourable from themselves and from the rest of the world.
Radiohead's performance of You and Whose Amy? which kicked off the second encore was made all the more biting and filled with cynical pathos by the single grainy closeup of the camera on Thom's eye for the duration of the song, pulling back at the opportune time to reveal a most splendid waggling of the eyebrows. Instant classic, that.
You And Whose Army? (dedicated to those who protested against the WTO in Seattle)
Everything In Its Right Place
With the music of Everything In Its Right Place still crackling and vibrating, and the light show dissolving into a cryptic but vaguely familiar pattern, Phil and Ed and Colin and Jonny and Thom left the stage for the final time, leaving us clapping with arms upstretched in the rain. I called out my feeble "I miss you already" to my heroes, the most important band in the world, and we shuffled out into the pelting rain.
epilogue - We arrived back in Seattle around 1:00 am, having splurged on premier parking which allowed our lot to exit the venue ahead of the others. A woman who spotted me in my Radiohead shirt downtown today told me that it took her 2 hours to leave the parking lot and they arrived home after 3:00.