Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This Is Really Happening: Vol. 7- IN RAINBOWS

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- NO LONGER TRUE, WATCH THE GLASTONBURY 2011 CONCERT HERE (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 and comments are readily encouraged. So are you ready? Here we go.

TIRH: Vol. 1- PABLO HONEY (1993)
TIRH: Vol. 2- THE BENDS (1995)
TIRH: Vol. 3- OK COMPUTER (1997)
TIRH: Vol. 4- KID A (2000)
TIRH: Vol. 5- AMNESIAC (2001)
TIRH: Vol. 6- HAIL TO THE THIEF (2003)

15 Step- 2009, Reading Festival

“How come I end up where I started?”

An unorthodox 4-3 percussive loop introduces us to In Rainbows. Whereas most songs recede and move forward, “15 Step” opts to spiral sideways as the beat is ultimately rescued from oblivion by a warm bluesy Jonny Greenwood riff. An endearingly odd album opener- especially in how natural and cozy the song feels live.

Bodysnatchers- 2008, Saitama

“I do not understand…”

Radiohead satisfies those who yearn for the days of Bendsian rockout traditionalism with “Bodysnatchers”. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to love here for everyone. Beginning with a fuzzy, stuttering riff before blasting away into a full band garage anthem, “Bodysnatchers” is one of the grooviest songs about an existential crisis ever written. It also features one of Radiohead’s best bridges ever.

Nude- 2008, Jonathon Ross

“Don’t get any big ideas.”

“Nude” made its way around the live circuit for years before officially making its studio debut on In Rainbows. Originally known as “Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)”, “Nude” is a bitter lovelorn ballad in the vein of Procul Harum. Alternately romantic and tragic, this inspiring tune is also one of Radiohead’s most interpretative. Just what do these lyrics mean? Is Thom bitter or content? Reflective or resentful? Perhaps the song is about all of these traits. The Jonathon Ross performance is flawless in how comfortably “Nude” unfolds from the band- one of the main reasons why In Rainbows is often regarded as Radiohead’s best all-around album.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi- 2008, Jools Holland

“In the deepest ocean…”

“Weird Fishes” is the type of song ripe for parodying by those who deem Radiohead music depressing. And while In Rainbows’ fourth track is appropriately sorrowful (it’s essentially achieving finality by sinking to the bottom of the ocean), it also wonderfully channels the experience of discovery. Jonny’s chord progression with its delicate underwater imagery is gorgeous as well.

All I Need- 2009, Prague

“I’m the next act…”

A shifting ambient synth, a staggered drum beat, a climactic piano solo- “All I Need” exists unto itself as the quintessential, brief slice of perfect Radiohead. A perfectly constructed song- this is never more evident than when Thom’s final solo stops just short of going over the top, leaving us wanting more but with no room for anything else. In many ways, “All I Need” is In Rainbows personified- brilliantly captured by 2009’s Prague DVD.

Faust Arp- 2009, Haiti Relief

“Wakey, wakey, rise and shine…”

"Faust Arp" is a gentle Beatles-esque transitional interlude in the vein of "Treefingers" albeit with slightly more substance. Featuring some of Radiohead’s more “stream of consciousness”-based lyrics punctuated with tastefully soaring violins, In Rainbows’ sixth track glides the listener along at just over two minutes. Both ethereal and cautious- as far as transitional interludes go, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

Reckoner- 2008, Saitama

“Reckoner, can’t take it with you…”

“Reckoner” is the crown jewel of In Rainbows- a powerfully subtle, transcendent gem of cascading percussion, Leone-esque chord progressions (last glimpsed on OK Computer), and heavenly tambourines. An anti-Siren song of undeniable enchantment- this may become one of Radiohead’s most timeless treasures. The Saitama performance actually glows- and that has nothing to do with the spellbinding pinks and fuschias featured in the dynamite light presentation. Not to be confused with the original “Reckoner”- an abrasive rock assault glimpsed years ago via a subpar bootleg

House of Cards- 2006, Bonnaroo

“I don’t want to be your friend…”

Radiohead’s 2006 Bonnaroo concert is widely regarded as one of their best performances- as well as possibly boasting their greatest ever setlist. It’s a shame that so little professional footage exists of this show. The Bonnaroo version of “House of Cards” was featured on a festival DVD along with other participating artists, so we know the footage exists somewhere. Hopefully, it will one day be given the distribution it deserves. As far as the song itself, “House of Cards” is probably the most overtly romantic song from In Rainbows. It doesn’t mask its bedtime intentions via unorthodox time signatures or complementary electronics. In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of The Bends’ “High and Dry. Only by 2007, Radiohead had become a far better band.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place- 2009, Reading Festival

“Just as you take my hand…”

A fast-paced acoustic piledriver, “Jigsaw” feels like a musical skeleton bouncing from verse to verse. This is probably the one and only time that In Rainbows’ romanticism tips the scales towards sexy. Thom’s lyrics chronicle sexual tension within social environments and the underlying events that facilitate these emotions. As minimalist as a rock and roll song can be- although it does feature a ghostly reverbed moan- "Jigsaw" was originally known as “Open Pick” during the brief 2006 summer tour. By 2009, the live version had become especially haunting.

Videotape- 2006, Bonnaroo

“When I’m at the pearly gates…”

Upon In Rainbows’ release, fans were immediately divided by “Videotape”. Some were frustrated that the album’s slower, somber cut didn’t reflect the fast-paced, inspiring version we had all seen rehearsed live in 2006. Other people felt that the “Videotape” which ended up on In Rainbows is the one that fits best within the context of the album. Let it be known that I agree with both. The studio version is a technical marvel of sound production. The sound of the projector running out of film amidst randomly placed electronic beats that start and stop is incomparable. As far as Radiohead album closers go, it works much the same way that “Motion Picture Soundtrack” dirge-like organ effectively finished off Kid A. That said, the 2006 Bonnaroo is really, really, really cool and deserves its place here. For uber-fans of the album version, here is the almost equally masterful Saitama performance.

Finally, the journey is complete. I hope everyone enjoyed it. Until next time.


  1. The links to the first 6 LPs don't work.

  2. I'll get right on that.

    - Fr. Jones

  3. Links should be all working now. Thanks for your patience.