Concert Review: Radiohead, Kid Koala, The Beta Band (August 1, 2001, Chicago, IL)

The whole night still seems like a blur. Maybe that’s what it’s like being in the jet set. You fly in, do what you came to do, and fly back out. As such, you don’t really have time to process what you saw or heard. Maybe it’s because you spent too much time worrying about making it to the airport on time. And so you sit at your computer, trying to recall the night’s events. You know you saw a great show from one the world’s most influential and acclaimed bands (you’ve got the ticket stub to prove it), but it still seems like it happened to someone else.

Perhaps I should back up a little bit. You see, I wasn’t planning on going to see Radiohead at first. I didn’t feel right asking for more time off right after getting back from Cornerstone. Maybe I’ve been in the corporate world too long, but it seemed a little… irresponsible. But then I found out we could get cheap airline tickets, fly to Chicago the day of the show, fly back the next morning, and only miss 1 day of work. It was just too good to pass up. And besides, carpe diem and all that. Of course, that ease just added to the transience of the whole thing, since it required no planning on my part. In fact, I didn’t even give it a second thought until the day before.

The 4 of us arrived in Chicago on time and promptly made our way to Arvey Field. It was easy enough to find the concert; we just needed to follow the masses of people making their way across the streets. After navigating our way through the throngs, we found to a good spot to sit until the concert’s start.

First up was The Beta Band. My only exposure to these guys was in the movie High Fidelity, and I’d liked what I’d heard. However, their live show was rather tedious. Lots of incessant, “trippy” jamming that was just a little too close to Phish territory for my liking. Even their “fuck MTV” rant was lame and pretentious. There’s nothing like a band that tries to make a point by stating the obvious. Thankfully, they realized that noone was there to see them and played a short set.

Kid Koala, on the other hand, didn’t play long enough. I’d never heard any of his stuff before, but I think I need too pick up his CD as soon as possible. Spinning on 3 turntables, Koala focused on setting a fun, upbeat groove that showed off his restraint and mixing skills, rather than mad scratching skills (though he definitely has those as well). Any DJ who can throw Tears For Fears into their mix and not fall on their face gets some bonus points from me. The crowd really got into the set, and as could be seen on the huge video screens adorning the stage, so did Koala.

After what seemed like an eternity of ragtime repeated ad nauseum over the PA, Radiohead took the stage and immediately took over the night. I’ll spare you any euphemisms; if you’ve read any music rags over the past few months, you know that Radiohead has enough accolades to last them well into their “Where Are They Now?” years. No, I didn’t feel like I was seeing the “future of rock” unfold before me. With all of the press that’s been built up around them, all of the endless praise and critical acclaim (some of it fairly ludicrous), it was nice to see that Radiohead is, in fact, 5 blokes who just love their music.

I loved watching Thom interact with the crowd via the video screens. It was obvious that Colin was enjoying himself up there, grooving harder than any of the others. I wished I had more money to spend on musical gear as I watched Johnny coax amazing sounds from archaic keyboards and musical gizmos. I watched in amazement as Radiohead pulled off their abstract Kid A material (“Everything In It’s Right Place,” “Idioteque”) with more ease than their more “straightforward” material. And when Thom forgot the words or Phil dropped the beat… well, it pulled away the curtain and showed that these are real live human beings who put their pants on like everyone else.

Of course the crowd loved it. I was standing about 7 feet away from a guy who looked like he was about to explode into a million pieces of happiness. And listening to thousands of people sing along to “Fake Plastic Trees,” I had to wonder what kind of electricity was coursing through Radiohead’s veins at that moment. After 3 encores, and closing with stunning versions of “True Love Waits” and “Street Spirit,” it was time to leave… and find a place to eat.

We finally found an open restaurant, and I ordered the “Garbage Salad.” (I found out the reason for its charming name when I woke up in the morning). We slept in a medieval dungeon, took the Orange Line to the airport, sprinted through the terminal, and left change behind at the metal detectors. We left Chicago just as it started to rain and missed out on the downpour. I walked back into work at 9:30am, less than 22 hours hours after I left. And if it weren’t for the ticket stub in my wallet, I’d still think the whole thing was a hallucination.

Maybe it will become a little clearer when I see some photos.