Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Is Really Happening: Vol. 1- PABLO HONEY

For those in the nosebleed seats, Radiohead announced they are performing The King of Limbs live on the BBC July 1. This will be the first time we have seen any of the songs from their eighth album performed by the entire band (Thom played several solo while on his Atoms for Peace tour last year). As Limbs itself is quite the abstract album- this is exciting news to see how Radiohead will breathe life into these eight tracks. One of the most enjoyable things about the band can be the way in which their live shows transcend a studio recording which usually is already transcendent on it’s own. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the driving bass line for the live version of Hail to the Thief’s “The Gloaming”- they actually had the audacity to open several shows with this in 2003. For myself, the song instantly went from being an experimental bridge piece to an album favorite.

In honor of the live unveiling of The King of Limbs, I will be running a weekly (hopefully) column breaking down the seven previous LP’s and the quintessential live band performance of each song followed by a brief explanatory write-up. The rules I have given myself are pretty lenient- every album can only have 2 songs from the same live show (if this weren’t the case- the Astoria concert would dominate Pablo Honey and a large portion of The Bends). Bear in mind- when I say “quintessential”, I am shooting for the best rendition, but a meaningful performance sometimes will reign paramount. If it comes to pass that some rarer songs cannot be found, a favorable B-side live version will take it's place. This is obviously opinionated so comments are readily encouraged. So are you ready? Here we go.

1. You- 1994, Reading Festival

"You are the sun and moon and stars are you.."

Those who have read my earlier Limbs post will understand why I find “You” to be an integral part of the Radiohead canon. Bizarro mythology aside- “You” deserves mention as an uncompromising alternative rock ballad. Their performance at Reading is especially dynamic because it perfectly captures their pre-Bends “go for broke” mentality. Forever relegated to the Underrated Pile- “You” deserves a second life somewhere.

2. Creep- 2003, SummerSonic Tour, Japan

"When you were here before, I couldn't look you in the eye..."

Two tracks in and we are already on controversial ground. This 2003 version of their biggest radio hit may not be the most flawlessly executed (the Astoria version is a treasure). But after publically disavowing the song for almost a decade, the band re-embraces it during this show from the Hail to the Thief tour. This rare openness, combined with the warm crowd interaction, allowed the world to see that Radiohead was about more than just steely Dystopian prophecies. It seems they have a soft spot for nostalgia as well. There are genuine chills at work here. Honorable mention-

3. How Do You? - 1993, Chicago Metro

"He's bitter and twisted, he knows what he wants..."

As the video quality can attest, this is some relatively ancient footage of the brief two minute rock-out known as “How Do You?”. Pablo Honey has never been referred to as a subtle endeavor. Most of the album’s midsection borders on being rote and formulaic- but the band makes up for it with a healthy dose of energy. There’s a lot of confidence in this video. And dare we say- fun?

4. Stop Whispering- 1994, Astoria

"And the Wise Man said, 'I don't want to hear your voice'..."

An album highlight. On it’s own terms, "Stop Whispering" is a perfect exercise in melodic alternative rock that would fit comfortably on the latter half of The Bends. Much has been written about the Astoria show- and for good reason. This is a stellar performance with a dynamite climax.

5. Thinking About You

"Been thinking about you, your records are here..."

What a shame that it is all but impossible to find a live video recording of this song. Masturbatory imagery aside- “Thinking About You” is a tender, brief acoustic ballad. Who knows? Maybe they will resuscitate it in the future. I doubt it.

6. Anyone Can Play Guitar- 1993, MTV Beach House

"Destiny, destiny, protect me from the world..."

Sure, there are crisper videos and performances of the band’s immersion into bipolar noise rock- but where else can you get a more thorough Radiohead time capsule than this? Here we get an MTV special featuring Pirate Ed, Jonny Androgyny, Slacker Colin and Thom who screams maniacally into the camera before jumping into a swimming pool (I really think he expected the MTV kids to jump in with him- nope). Plus, Phil with hair!

7. Ripcord – 1994, Reading Festival

"Soul destroyed with clever toys for little boys..."

With “Ripcord”, Pablo Honey begins the descent into it’s fairly pedantic second half (only to be revived near the end). Here they turn in a strong, energetic version of a rather standard piece. The innocent, rebellious tone of songs like “Ripcord” is what makes Pablo Honey endearing and hugely listenable.

8. Vegetable- 1993, Chicago Metro

"I never wanted anything but this..."

The fog machine is hard at work here. Plus, we have early shades of Thom’s trademark spastic moves. Since we are blessed with almost two decades of hindsight, what I find most interesting about these Honey videos is how evident it is that each band member exhibits musical and character traits which are progressively cultivated over the years- except Jonny Greenwood. For all intents and purposes, he appeared to be a genius right from the start.

9. Prove Yourself- 1995, Lupo's

"I can't afford to breathe in this town..."

A steadicam shot of harmless, mostly forgettable filler- watch me get flayed for writing that. Notable for the opening rapport between Thom and Ed where they bond over a certain 4-letter word.

10. I Can’t

"Please forget the words that I just blurted out..."

I was genuinely surprised that live videos of this tune were so difficult to find. That echoey solo at the beginning seems destined for a live performance. On top of that, the song itself is pretty good. Here’s an early pre- Honey demo.

11. Lurgee - 1997, Electric Factory

"I feel better, I feel better now you've gone..."

In the first few years following Honey, “Lurgee” was frequently dusted off and revived during shows- and for good reason. This is about as sweet and melodic as a song about an indeterminate illness can possibly be.

12. Blow Out- 1994, Astoria

"In my mind and nailed into my heels..."

We draw to a close with this slice of haunting brilliance. There are many reasons to watch the Astoria show. But if you are only allowed one reason, it should be for “Blow Out”. Easily the best song on the album in terms of arrangement, progression, and lyrical content- it holds steady with some of the greatest moments from their alt-rock era.

B-Side Substitutes

Killer Cars- 1994, Japan

"Too hard on the brakes again..."

“Killer Cars” is an early treasured B-side throughout all of Radiohead fandom. It also began Thom’s recurring paranoia about automobiles.

Banana Co - 1998, San Francisco

"Oh, Banana Co, we really love you and we need you."

A forgotten, but severely underrated B-side- “Banana Co” is a lively, energetic tune with a soft undercurrent of sadness. It also features a couple of dynamite Jonny Greenwood moments.

Well, there you have it. Stay tuned for The Bends. Until then-