Stifling Perfection

Radiohead at Kindl-Bühne Wuhlheide, Berlin

By Sascha Krieger

If there is one single band in the entire world of what was once called popular music that will never be associated with the term routine, it is probably Radiohead. No band has pushed the limits of what music can do, at times close to or even slighty across the limits of listenable, has redefined what they’re doing t every new album, has explored the possibilities of sound, rhythm and atmosphere as the British band who has been synonymous with avant-garde for almost 20 years now. What they do has long past the concept of song as we know it  – which does not mean they aren’t great songwriters either, in fact when they were still engaging in this (up until the release of OK Computer), there was hardly a band that could match them. Since then their output has become more fragmented and wholesome at the same time, what used to be songs turned into static or circular sound structures, atmosphere provided with a form, pulsing rhythms leading deep into the heart and brain and guts of what music can do. And in the past they have regularly been able to reproduce the magic that their albums create on stage, or rather they have produced a live magic of its own.

Yet, when they got on stage for the first of two Berlin concerts – postponed from July because of the tragic accident in Toronto that killed a crew member when the stage collapsed – things were different. Yes, Radiohead plowed through their catalogue, mostly from their more experimental phase, i.e. Kid A and later, with a few bits thrown in from The Bends and OK Computer. And yes, the stage and light show was atmospherically dense, numerous small square video screens across the stage showing fragmented glimpses of the band and ultimately the creation of this music in the moment of it happening and a dominating color for each song. And yet, the spark did not fly this time, the magic did not transpire, the music did not take flight. There were, of course, notable exceptions, particularly the three-song stretch of tracks from their 2007 album In Rainbows, but for most of the night, there was a feeling of staleness, and indeed, routine.

Indeed, it was not as if the perfection with which they dug into their complex musical structures was missing, in fact, there might have been too much of it. Everything, from the lighting to every single stroke of either of the two drum sets, seemed thoroughly planned but the energy seemed missing, leaving the songs little more than perfectly re-imagined copies of what was on the album. The rhythmic element was strong and dominated the sound and atmosphere, this being a drums-dominated incarnation of the band but forgetting about what makes their best work so special: the perfect and almost magic fusion of all those very different elements that become one in something that is far bigger than the sum of its parts. here, it all remained separate and so did the songs, the breaks too long, there was no feeling of them merging into something bigger, just a succession of separate entities. In addition, one got the feeling that the band’s hearts weren’t into it this night. And so the concert turned into the most un-Radiohead kind of thing: routine. Perfect routine, no doubt, but routine nonetheless.

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