Why I'm Sick Of Radiohead

Posted 09/29/2011 by cal

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Liam Gallagher , the bitterest Brit in the music biz, recently suggested that Radiohead ripped off The Beatles somehow with the tune “Karma Police”.  Anyone who’s ever heard an Oasis song knows how preposterous that accusation was, at face value, and the Gallagher brothers have a long history of slagging Radiohead in the press; if only Liam could’ve channeled his jealousy into a more pertinent argument…

If Radiohead aped The Beatles, music-wise, fine; so did everybody.  It’s this whole not-touring thing that provides the most odious Beatles parallel.  Touring, like it or not, is your job as one of the world’s most popular bands.  The Beatles quit playing live because it became pointless and logistically impossible, but that’s not the case with Radiohead.  Thom Yorke isn’t into doing a lot of interviews, so we don’t know what his reasoning is, but it seems pretty clear he’s indifferent at best towards his fans.

To be fair, it’s only certain fans who feel left out.  Celebrities always get guest passes to Radiohead shows, and wealthy fans can pay ridiculous prices for scalped tickets and fly out to rare shows like the two this week at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, which holds about 3,500 people.  For those who somehow manage to get in the door, oh what a special night it’s sure to be, and that’s part of the Radiohead mystique: exclude as many people as possible in the attempt to eschew the pop star image.  But you’re not fooling anyone, Radiohead: you guys are pop stars, no matter how much you pretend not to be.

There are some other curious symbolic hypocrisies going on here.  For one, the very sensitive band behaves like a stereotypical macho asshole when it comes to the U.S.A.  In the 90s, when Radiohead was wooing us, we saw quite a bit of the band, but now that we’ve gone all the way, Thom has decided he’s bored with us.  Conquering America was a big deal, but now that we’ve fallen in love we’re suddenly not as appealing.  And when Radiohead does come around, it’s either going out with friends at Lollapalooza (’08), when we have to pay for a whole festival and get a lame, abbreviated set, or it’s Auditorium Theatre (’06), which sells out ten seconds after it goes onsale and won't let most of us in.

I can only guess about what happened in the mind of Yorke after the previous three tours, because for the fans, those were perfect in every way.  Amphitheaters across the country filled up with people, the band was playing amazing shows night after night, and Radiohead nation seemed universally satisfied.  I suppose as word of mouth and critical acclaim continued to build, the band saw its stock rising exponentially, reaching a level that few artists will ever get a whiff of.  Like opulent CEOs, the capitalists in Radiohead realized they could do whatever they wanted.  Why work so hard?  They could dole out little bits of themselves here and there and the public would eat it up and be grateful.  They could forget about how they got there and just push forward with no regard for the little people, those who got shut out of impossible Ticketmaster sales, those who couldn’t afford to pay festival or broker prices, those who could barely afford a lawn ticket before.  Who needs those fans?  This year the band went so far as to outsource the music itself, letting friends take the latest album and remix it endlessly.  It’s like being in a band, except you don’t have to even lift a finger.

It was these Roseland shows that pushed me over the edge, though.  Continuing with the recent trend of announcing shows a few minutes before they go onsale--because real fans always have a Radiohead-ticket nest egg saved up--the band blessed New York City with two shows all of a sudden.  Plus, the band played Saturday Night Live and Colbert, with Pitchfork and the rest of the media slavering over every utterance.  Then came the shocking revelation: some people who managed to purchase tickets to the Roseland shows were selling them for more than face valueRadiohead’s official position: “Using a 2 ticket limit and will-call only access with ID, we have tried to ensure that more tickets go to the people who prefer to see the show than to fleece fellow fans with re-selling tickets at exorbitant prices.”  Bravo, guys; that's roughly equivalent to saying, “In an effort to combat world hunger, I’ve given my leftovers to my little nephew Rupert, who was hungry.”

The real way to combat scalpers is to play bigger venues, and more of them.  Spread yourself out so that everyone who wants to see gets to see.  But that’s definitely not the way to maximize profit.  So, let’s say you’ve been a fan since “Creep”, and you’ve done well for yourself over the past couple of decades, and either by luck or wealth you got yourself into the Roseland last night.  Here’s what you got for your troubles: one song each from The Bends and OK Computer and Hail To The Thief, two from Kid A, and fourteen from the last two albums.  Oh, and one from Thom’s side project.  Aren’t you glad you spent that money to witness the stubborn disdain the band has for you and for its best songs?  I’m all for evolving and pushing forward and focusing on the new material, and I think The King Of Limbs is the best Radiohead album since Amnesiac (even though, as a vinyl lover, I had to buy it twice if I wanted to hear it right when it came out), but throw me a frickin’ bone here.  This is a band that used to be unpredictable, mixing up setlists with b-sides and covers, old and new material alike.  Respect for all of your fans: that's how you make a show special.

But the members of Radiohead don’t seem to give a shit about the fans.  They don’t care how much the old songs mean to you; they know that you like the new songs enough, and that you’re so starved for live Radiohead that you’ll take whatever you can get.  It’s their music, not yours.  So they hide out for long periods of time, emerging occasionally as conquering heroes, but despite what they’d have you believe, they’re not shy.  In pretending to duck out of the spotlight, all they’re projecting is LOOK AT US.  Two special shows in New York.  A handful of television appearances.  The occasional “secret” DJ set.  A DVD of a performance in a basement with no audience.  Hang on every little thing we do, because it’s all you’re going to get.  And it seems to be working; Radiohead fever is as insane as ever.  Eventually the fans will become so desperate, and those who get in will be so worshipful, maybe the screams will drown out the music.

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