Last weekend I saw Radiohead play an arena show in Atlanta. I sat in the back-right nosebleeds. The stage was barely visible. And it was incredible.
I shy away from the idea of favorites generally, but Radiohead is a group that consistently speaks to me on an artistic, an emotional, and an intellectual level. This was only my second time seeing them, and I’m thankful for each. They don’t tour often nor for long and they aren’t cheap when they do.
Radiohead shines at adapting their art from studio to stage. All of their albums have been heavily produced, but the later ones reflect a level of meticulous, hands-on production that becomes its own character. Every segment has more layers than one could count. Every single sound sample, riff and effect is painstakingly precise. And it’s so heavily lacquered with processed sound that even the most common instruments sound like bizarro versions of themselves from the Upside Down.
So how to you make all of this work on stage? There aren’t 75 people on stage managing all the variations of production effects, so ultimately you’re left with the basic tools that every other rock band in the world has at their disposal.
The difference of sound is stark, but poetic. Each variation of each line, each riff, each beat is a statement that the music is living and that its creators are ever innovating on the art they create. A bit that is lacking is compensated for by another, keeping the balance and the soul of the music alive. A song is a strange new iteration of itself, while completely whole. It’s a profound feat, but it’s especially impressive when the degree of difficulty is so high with all of the precious, neurotic little details.
Of course, studio to stage adaptation is the challenge of all performing artists. Radiohead just does it better than the rest of them.