Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The glass is 40 percent full of Radiohead

A few months ago I celebrated my 100th concert. HOORAY FOR ME. HOORAY FOR MUSIC. I've seen shows in Orchard Park, Lewiston, Syracuse, Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Tucson, Phoenix, Finger Lakes, Pembroke, Los Angeles, Irvine, West Hollywood and even Pomona.

With this kind of experience, when I saw that Radiohead was playing the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday and that the show "started" at 7 p.m. according to the ticket, I figured 7:30 p.m. dinner plans would get me to my seat right about 9 p.m., when the band would be taking the stage.

Amy and I used the following logic in planning our concert excursion. Noise ordinance kicks in at 11 p.m., so working backward ... a band with an extensive back catalog, which Radiohead is, usually plays about two hours per show. So if we aim for a 9 p.m. arrival, we should probably be getting to Hollywood to park around 8:30 p.m. thus leaving plenty of time to walk from the surrounding neighborhood up the hill to the Hollywood Bowl. That means a quickie, cheap dinner starting at 7:30 p.m. should be fine, eh?

We meet up at 7:30 and our arranged restaurant but improvise sushi just down the street. Ultimately, this decision costs us about 20 minutes—rather than finishing at 8:15 we finish closer to 8:35. We end up getting parked in Hollywood around 8:50 instead. But we're both good walkers so we know that we'll make up most of the time and if we miss a song or two the world won't end. (We've each seen them before).

As we approach the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl we can hear Radiohead. "Shit, we missed the beginning," I say. It's about 9:15 when we get to the entrance. NO ONE else is "fashionably late." But then again, this is RADIOHEAD. Their fans are devoted.

We proceed up the hill and I notice that we're the only ones heading in. Like I said, devoted. The ticket guy scans our tickets but the security people let Amy through without a bag check. WTF? Is this Dick Cheney's America or what? As we're walking I notice that a large pack of Bowl employees are eating and the black and white clad ushers are heading away from the seating area. RADIOHEAD FANS ARE DEVOTED.

"I could really use a drink of water," Amy says.

"Yeah, but let's get to the entrance to our section first," I reply.

"Right on."

We had good seats so we get there a minute later. I go in and Radiohead is in the midst of Climbing Up the Walls. While waiting for Amy they start Bodysnatchers, my favorite song from In Rainbows. It's AMAZING with it's crooked rhythmic aggression. And they sound incredible. I am geeking out huge. Amy comes back and we head toward our seats. We get to our aisle and decide to wait until the band finishes the song before we head to our row, so as not to be too disruptive as the fashionably late arrivals.

When we get to our row, it's jammed like sardines. As we squeeze by the other fans I apologize for being the late ones. Our spots are actually occupied, but the people standing there are cool as we show them our tix and push down and Amy and I nestle in. Now that we've arrived they start playing How to Disappear Completely. More superbness. Then the band walks off stage to cries that can only be interpreted as thank-you-so-muc-you-changed-my-life-type passion.

I don't know how I felt in that moment. Amy would tell me later that I got pale for an instant. I look at her and she has a weird smile (doesn't reach her cheeks really) and a distant look in her eyes. Then she and I simultaneously chuckle at the absurdity of our situation.


"Um ... huh?"

"Is that ...?" neither of us quite able to voice our fear.

I look at my watch. It's 9:35 p.m. She looks at her cell phone to check the time. Same thing.

I can tell I've got a weird smile on my face as I stare at a Radioheadless stage. I feel Amy's hand on my shoulder. I look to my left.

"Dude, the encore is next. We missed the show," she says, probably as much to comfort herself as me.

"I know. I can't believe it, though. Look at the time," I say oddly feeling only a slight disappointment. I think the stun effect is still overwhelming me.

"I know," she replies equally stunned.

Both concert vets, we pause to reconstruct our plans for the night and we can't find any flaws.

I quickly entertain thoughts of buying tickets to the next night's show on Craigslist. But since I'm in austerity-Mike mode I bury those thoughts. "Maybe, the noise ordinance kicks in at 10 p.m.? I wish I had triple checked."

The band returns to the stage. I have one thought in my head. I want a five-song encore. That would mean I'd get to hear about eight songs. At $80 a ticket that's $10 a song. If my per song value gets higher than that, I'm gonna lose it?

Well, thankfully they proceed to play an amazing five-song encore: Videotape / Paranoid Android / Dollars & Cents / Street Spirit (Fade Out) / Reckoner. WOWZ. It's like a transcendent musical experience. I almost cried during Videotape and the crowd energy during Paranoid Android energy was like organic.

The band leaves the stage again. It's 10:08 p.m. If the noise ordinance cut off was 10 p.m. the show would have ended then, because the fine would kick in immediately at 10:01. Now we don't know what's going on.

Amy and I are impressed enough that any lingering disappointment has been quashed, thanks in part to tons of shock still runnning through us. The fans are going even more nuts. And on one is packing up anything. No one is dashing to beat the crowd, which is almost as common as dope smoking at Bowl concerts. As we look to the stage, Amy and I both note that the stage isn't being broken down, instead the piano is being moved and guitars are being replaced and tuned.

They come out again!!! We consider the possiblity that maybe they're taking breaks every five or six songs. Again, neither of us can ourselves to ask anyone. At this point Amy is crossing her fingers for "House of Cards" from In Rainbows. I wonder whether they've already played everything from the latest album.

In a sign of good karma, they open this set with House of Cards. Then they perform Lucky and Everything in Its Right Place. Then it's over at about 10:30, so we got about an hour of show. We're both disappointed, obviously, but also quite zenfully at peace with it. As we're leaving the venue, we remark that we were each glad that we shared this experience with the other. With almost anyone else, we would have probably gotten pissed through a mutual sharing of frustration thing. But we each were so struck by the absurdity of seeing our very sensical, logical plan disastorously crash that we coasted through it.

In the end we got about 10.5-11 songs, so better than $10 per song.

When I checked the Web Monday I learned that they had in fact played like 26 songs. And I later found out that they took the stage at 8 p.m. By Grapthar's Hammer that's quite a value.

In the end, it was still an amazing show. But I suspect that had I been there for the whole thing, it would have been transcendent. *sigh*

Here's a highlight

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