Sunday, April 26, 2009

Primer Part 7: Radiohead- I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings

Radiohead began this decade like a shot, releasing three things before 2002: Kid A in 2000 and Amnesiac as well as the live EP/mini-LP I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings both in 2001. My impression at the time was that this was a reminder to the fans that Radiohead were indeed still a rock band; even if their newest albums had been stripped down and experimental, they remained an awe inspiring live act. I saw Radiohead in the early Fall of 2003, after the release of Hail To The Thief, and I can tell you that the in-person-experience exceeds the slices presented on I Might Be Wrong. In thinking about that concert and returning to this live document over for the past few days, though, it's occurred to me how important the tours during the Kid A/Amnesiac era must have been for the band. If all of the members weren't always playing on every song on the albums, trying to present those songs live enabled them to change, add, or delete elements, giving every Radiohead member a chance to help shape the sound for an audience.

Radiohead are a great live band but they aren't a great live band in the way that Phish or Animal Collective are. They don't change the songs too greatly, they don't segue them together, and there is no true improvisation going on. What they have is an energy and power that is almost astonishing. The songs are played almost exactly as they are on the albums, so if you're going with the expectation of some musical journey or epiphany, someone has been lying to you. The songs from Kid A and Amnesiac are the most surprising and interesting ones to see live, in my opinion, because each member doesn't have the usual role to fulfill. I think of Radiohead as fundamentally a rock combo unit--singer, guitarists, bassist, drummer--but when they approach the songs of Kid A and Amnesiac this goes out the window. They couldn't reproduce all the elements of those albums live, and at times they need to add or change things as well. This is why I find I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings so fascinating, because it approximates what Radiohead would be like if they approached all of their songs in a live show with more of a liberal attitude.

'The National Anthem' begins this EP with scorched Earth throttling, noticeably faster and dirtier than the studio version. The bass is coated in fuzzy distortion, the drums a bit more breakneck, the horn section replaced by eerie and screechy electronics. 'I Might Be Wrong' is similarly faster and dirtier with more a pounding beat. 'Idioteque' is a true rave up, ending abruptly as if everyone collapsed from imitating Thom's seizure dancing. 'Everything In Its Right Place' sounds like a live remix; when I saw the band in 2003, they ended the show with it, the band members slowly leaving the stage one by one while Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien continued to fiddle with nobs, looping and distorting samples of Thom's voice and the sounds of the rest of the band. Of most interest to fans will be 'Like Spinning Plates', an acoustic piano take on the eerie backwards electronic experiment of the album version, as well as a performance of the unreleased ballad 'True Love Waits' (which is mostly unspectacular despite what most reviews say, though I do like the line "I'm not living/I'm just killing time.")

Like everything they've released after Pablo Honey, if you're a fan of Radiohead you'll want this live release in your collection. It does leave one desperately hoping for a full fledged live album or DVD (rumors are floating around of something along the lines of the latter, probably taken from their performance at Bonnaroo a couple years ago), but taken on its own terms this is an excellent release. It proved that Radiohead were still a band and also still a great rock band. Their next release would see the band letting this feel slip back into their studio work as well.


mickaguinaldo said...

Hail to Radiohead! The best band ever!

Matt Stevens said...

I love radiohead - especially the crazy noisy guitar nob twiddle action