Pop Radiohead

6 03 2012

Someone out there will dare to call Radiohead poppy because they found a way to bend their heads and their ears and their minds in the right way to latch onto the submerged melodies and harmonies lurking inside all that rhythm and those mumbled lyrics. And they’d be right. Radiohead is at heart a pop band that just happens to have an avant garde side it refuses to hide.

It’s become the mark of its success — just enough Terry Riley and Bo Diddley and drum-n-bass and reverb to keep things moving along. There is some REM in there too. And some West African drumming. Oh, and some David Bowie too. The sum is greater than the parts.

Radiohead is poppy culturally too. They are popular with people. Lots of people. When the band passed through Atlanta last Thursday night, Philips Arena, an enormous arena that’s home to the town’s NBA franchise, could possibly have been more packed than it was, but that would have excluded everyone who didn’t get a seat to this sold out show. That’s a lot of folks.

To watch upwards of 21,000 people jam into an impersonal arena and be a patient, attentive and then swept away audience is something to behold. The avant garde is usually a lot less well attended, the crowds shrunken to the faithful few, and there”s usually a lot more pretension. This band, whose music can be icily cold, wooed everyone and easily won their hearts and ears. The pretension was at a minimum and the sound was perfect. For an arena, that’s an accomplishment. When you were supposed to be walloped with a massive bass wave, it happened with a purposeful and perfectly formed thump.

Neil Young said he didn’t like the middle of the road so he headed for the ditch. Radiohead no doubt found him there when they decided that was their home as well.

These excellent photos from Atlanta’s Creative Loafing show a band that would be perfectly suited to playing someone’s basement, maybe their own, and just to a few people, using dangling flat screens to enhance a band that won’t pander, won’t exhort, won’t bite your hand, but does deliver with some intriguing and beguiling music guaranteed to entrance just a few or the masses. Makes no difference to this band. They’re playing for their own pleasure and write for it too.

All of us just happen to be lucky enough to be around to hear it.