“Come, give us a taste of your quality.”
—Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
Traveling around the world with your favorite band is a daunting, expensive proposition. When the band in question is Radiohead (whose tickets are not exactly in the “modest” range), and the first two stops on the band’s world tour are in Copenhagen, Denmark (where a McDonald’s Big Mac meal could set you back around ten bucks US), it takes a hardcore fan to follow.
Spring was in full, glorious swing in Copenhagen and the air smelled of flowers in bloom. Gorgeous blue-eyed blond people roamed the fairytale streets, resplendent with their stylish duds and sincere smiles. The native Danes provided help to the droves of hapless American tourists roaming the cobblestone streets (in English no less!). The setting could not have been better for a weekend of sitting outside of the KB Hallen—a sports building that houses around 2,000—while waiting to see Radiohead.
Fans of the band from all over the globe competed to get the best spots inside, some arriving at the crack of dawn (or earlier). The thing to note about these fans is that they were all hell-bent on being front and center, on standing smack-dab in front of lead singer Thom Yorke. Well, at least the out-of-towners. Very few actual Danes arrived early enough to get that far up in the queue. Instead the front area was filled with Americans who go to “every show, on every tour” and a gaggle of Japanese women who have “attended every Radiohead show, period.”
By five o’clock, there was a sea of shaggy-haired boys in tight rock and roll jeans, with floppy hair and Converse sneakers (which run for a staggering equivalent of US $90 a pop in Denmark). They stood scattered on the pavement, drunk on beer and anticipation. This was the sexiest, most fashionable tail-gate party of all time.
The feeling of paranoia and suspicion amongst the American contingent was enough to make even the strongest man break into tears. To say that this band has dedicated fans is a gross understatement. Some of these fans are dedicated to the point of feeling personal entitlement. And some are just jaded: one long-time tour-follower was intent on getting backstage to tell the band how “fucking awful” and “boring and repetitive” their new music had sounded the night before. Mind you, this American fan, who had seen the band forty odd times didn’t even have enough money to eat that day.
Around 7 pm, KB Hallen’s crackerjack staff of fair-skinned, statuesque security guards began to let the fans squeeze through the doors in an orderly, meticulously organized procession. The staff of the venue was one of the most intriguing elements of the show. Not only were they good looking and good at their jobs, they were helpful in practical ways as well. Instead of making everyone buy over-priced bottled water at a concession stand, the security staff dutifully passed plastic cups of cold water around during the performances to stave off heatstroke and dry mouth. When a girl who had waited all day long outside nearly fainted, the guards were on top of it. They not only got her out of harm’s way just in time and helped her recoup, they also made the crowd move after she received medical attention, so she could get her prime spot back.
In fitting with the precision of Danish aesthetics, supporting act and Massachusetts native Willy Mason hit the stage promptly at 8 pm. Mason, while game, wasn’t able to satisfy the eager mob with his musings about “moonshine” and his hippie-fied Southern rock-lite sound. Granted, opening for one of the world’s biggest bands is a thankless job, but nothing in Mason’s rather flat singing or his uninspired guitar picking suggests he will be doing it again. I couldn’t help but feel pity for the poor sap as Radiohead’s fans verbally assaulted him from the pit, hurling old heckling chestnuts in double time.
At five minutes past nine, Radiohead took to the stage in all their pasty, paunchy middle-aged glory, soon previewing a selection of new material for the first time. A proper album was to be released later this year, but, according to the latest news, it looks like that’s no longer happening. Maybe it’s for the best—the new songs didn’t really sync up in a way that indicated a great Radiohead record in the works. And the general attitude towards the new stuff is rather mixed among fans—Danish and American alike.
“House of Cards” was a casual, almost R&B-affected rock ballad that provided a nice showcase for Yorke’s breezy upper register, his cooing and crooning at the height of vulnerability. “Bangers and Mash” found the versatile Yorke yelping from behind a small drumset as the band summoned their inner garage rockers. The sound was a little more “raw” rock than their usually polished, uber-produced efforts of late. Songs like the raucous “15 Step” and gorgeous “Arpeggi” were both solid, if not completely innovative efforts.
Not too surprisingly, Thom and the boys were at the height of their powers on older favorites like Ok Computer‘s “Let Down” and The Bends’ “Black Star”, both of which have been largely absent on recent tours. The Danes in the crowd were inclined to clap and sing their way through these more popular numbers
Saturday’s concert was a decidedly more up-tempo rock and roll affair—the crowd-pleasing “Paranoid Android” is enough to cause a guitar squall-induced aneurism of pleasure for most fans. The next night’s show was sort of an exploration of the softer, romantic side of the band. They played several of their more introspective and melancholy numbers.
Constantly re-inventing their live and recorded sound, Radiohead is able to sell out venues the world over, and it seems that drifting into middle age isn’t slowing down their creative process. Their eclectic palette of sound seems as vivid and varied as ever. Sure, the new songs didn’t seem to gel perfectly as a record, but these guys know what we want better than we do—and it’s never what we expect.
And that’s why we love them. Rarely have I seen a show filled with such respect for the performers. Given that the band’s core audience is one of the most discriminating of the music world, credit must be given to its members for constantly striving to be unique and relevant in such a competitive climate. The overall mood of the Copenhagen crowd would indicate that if nothing else, the band will always be welcome in Denmark, even if the Americans and Brits get sick of them. Of course, when even fans that think the band is “fucking awful” are dying to get backstage, no one is getting sick of Radiohead anytime soon.