Sunday, February 17, 2019

‘All My Past and Futures’ - Radiohead at the Bell Centre

British legends Radiohead have arrived in Montreal for two nights of sonic prowess on their Moon-Shaped Pool Tour, and my brother and I are equipped with two floor tickets for the second of the two sets, the hope being that the final night will prove longer and more fabulous than the first.

En route, the straight six patiently purrs down the Trans-Canada Highway into Quebec, and it’s not long before rays of July sunshine welcome us in Montreal. Will and I find a parking garage a few blocks from the Bell Centre, lock the car, and head toward the venue, foot traffic already pooling in the surrounding streets, people of all shapes, ages, and sizes swaddled in their best and most devoted Radiohead merch. A quick pitstop at the McDonald’s on Rue de la Montagne yields more concert-goers, and as we sit and my brother inhales a quick burger, I overhear a group of university students at the table beside us discussing the set from the previous night, along with their hopes for the night before us.

“You know that one song…it’s like…wah wa-wah wa-wah…wahh…wahh,” one of the girls tries to explain. “From Amnesiac, I think?” She whips out her phone, and after a few minutes of thumbing, says excitedly, “This one!” holding the phone up to her ear, then aloft for her friends—‘Hunting Bears’, indeed from Amnesiac.

Will finishes his food, and we head across the street to look for the entrance. I light a lance and puff away, passing it to my brother briefly before continuing to search for where we floor ticket-holders are meant to enter. Several inquiries to assorted staff later, we find our entrance and are shortly thereafter ushered into the security queue. Demonstrating our lack of blades and bombs, a comely blonde security guard asks for my credit card and jams it into some tell-tale credit card reader that confirms our tickets. She equips us with two really tight red wristbands, and with that, we head for the entrance to the floor. We arrive to find it already well-packed, though not so tightly we can’t find a half-decent spot to plant in front of stage right.

The opening act, Junun, comes on; they’re a collection of Indian musicians (a.k.a the Rajasthan Express) playing traditional instruments and percussion, with Radiohead member Johnny Greenwood adding his own stringed instruments into the mix. The Rajasthan Express’s voices are resonant and operatic, and carry their many melodies with passionate plangency. When their set ends, the crowd cheers raucously—certainly they put on an impressive performance—one that’s a welcome change of pace from the usual lacklustre openers that dog tours large as these. Looking to my brother, he informs me we’ll likely be waiting some time before Radiohead starts, and not wanting to abandon our spot to the burgeoning crowd yet pressing in, we do our best to hasten the passage of time with phones and people-watching. Fortunately, the set starts earlier than guessed, much to the relief of my increasingly aching legs.

The lights die, the stage blooms. The dulcet piano melody of ‘Daydreaming’ from A Moon-Shaped Pool is the opener, Thom Yorke’s face slowly coming into view on the massive oval screen perched above and behind the band, gently leading the show from a lonesome piano placed centre stage. Arachnid frissons crawl down my spine from the sensation of the mallets striking strings—an incantation from its first instant. The band transitions into ‘Ful Stop’, also from Moon-Shaped Pool, the energy slowly building as Johnny Greenwood wails on a guitar growing progressively more saturated with delay, until the stage explodes in light at the onset of the chorus. ‘15 Step’ from In Rainbows follows, shifting upbeat, Clive Deamer switching off his doubling drumkit to wield handheld percussive instruments, Philip Selway left to man the kit—a change in instrumentation to be repeated throughout the show.

Delving back into their heyday, ‘Lucky’ from OK Computer follows, Greenwood showcasing more classic rock guitar chops than the ethereal ambiances which have come to characterize their newer material. ‘Kid A’ from the eponymous album is next, and through the gargantuan sound system, the metallic pads and trills are piercingly and crushingly soft; my spiderous shivers returns. They then launch into ‘Burn the Witch’ from Moon-Shaped Pool, Greenwood equipping himself with a thinline Telecaster and a violin bow to recreate the signature, orchestral opener of the album.

‘The Gloaming’ from Hail to the Thief is next—another personal favourite—followed by the song I have been praying and living and dying to hear: ’Pyramid Song’, from Amnesiac. The entire arena is bathed in a low red glow, and finally seeing these musicians live, hearing this song live, is an epiphanic moment; when I envisioned experiencing this energy in the flesh, I expected, needed to slip into the sharp and terrible tears I’ve evaded for so long (since I gored and gutted my own ultraviolet darling), but standing here, absolutely and utterly rooted to the ground, not moving an inch, barely daring to breathe, I find no silent secrets waiting to disburden myself of these fossilized tears. When ‘Climbing Up the Walls’ from OK Computer follows, my hope for catharsis is refreshed, but despite the absolutely haunting tone of Yorke’s vocals and lyrics, the resounding bassline Colin Greenwood’s playing on a Moog synthesizer to the side, and the utter shivers crawling down the back of my arms and neck, I am still dumb and paralyzed.

The band launches into ‘Idioteque’ from Kid A next, always interesting to see live because of its absence of bass and the percussive, sometimes a capella instances of Yorke leading the band. ‘Bloom’ from The King of Limbs follows, easing into some of their more modern, electronic and percussion-driven pieces, before easing into another canthus-stinging song, ‘Reckoner’, from In Rainbows, the famously pay-what-you-can digital release (precluding the rise of Bandcamp and D2C releases). As Yorke plucks the song’s signature riff, I feel the stirrings of defunct ducts, and yet, nothing wrests open. Glancing to my side, I look to my brother to see how the song, the show is affecting him. He’s seemingly still and stoic as I am, but I know what finally being able to see this live means to him.
 As ‘Reckoner’ ends, the band transitions into ‘The National Anthem’ from Kid A, Colin Greenwood’s iconic, fuzzed-out bassline leading the band, the arena in the charge before its deep denouement into ‘How to Disappear Completely’, the searing, chilling song infamously quoted by Montreal’s own rent-boytoy slasher and Patrick Bateman-would be, Luka Magnotta, found by the police scrawled across the walls of his apartment. (Being in Montreal, one wonders if the band realized or considered this at all, but I may well be one of the few people to catch this connection.) The stage bleeds scarlet as the piano is rolled out for Yorke to man, launching into ‘You and Whose Army?’, the camera on the piano’s sheet music holder feeding one of Yorke’s distinctive eyes onto the screen still dwarfing the back of the stage. To have so many songs from Amnesiac is an auspice; I feel confident we chose the better of the two nights to attend.

The band segues into ‘There There’ from Hail to the Thief, another sombre but beautiful number, Selway’s percussion grooving amidst Greenwood’s characteristic guitars. Wrapping up the set with ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ from The Bends would admittedly not be my selection—but with such a heavyweight band, this is, of course, only the beginning of the first encore.

After a brief respite, they return to perform ‘Optimistic’ from Kid A (further cementing the superiority of night two), the chorus pure rapture as Yorke soars as the utter vocalist-eagle he is. ‘Nude’ from In Rainbows is next in the encore, another number led by Yorke on the piano, followed by ‘Identikit’ from Moon-Shaped Pool, ‘Lotus Flower’ from The King of Limbs, and finally, ‘The Bends’ (off the eponymous album), much to the crowd’s delight, Johnny and Colin Greenwood reprising their classic rock-oriented riffs with aplomb.

Departing from the stage, the show appears to be over, but after a brief pause, a piano is wheeled out and Yorke returns, announcing they’re playing a little song that never quite was—“Not to be confused with the Bond film,” Yorke says with a wry smile. (‘Spectre’, the would-be title track for the Bond film, was ultimately usurped by Sam Smith.) The crowd is very much happy with this choice offering. The ever-raucous ‘Paranoid Android’ from OK Computer follows, at which point everyone unfortunately whips out their phones to capture the chaotic light show characteristic of the breakdown at the end of the song. Finally, to end the second encore and bring the night to a close is ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from The Bends, gently strummed and gloriously sung, ringing out into the evening as the band members bow and depart the stage.

Looking to my brother, some weight lifting off my chest despite the failed catharsis, I smile and gesture to the vomatoria flooded by concertgoers exiting the floor. We’re able to exit quickly enough, but the minute we get out of the venue, we realize we’re going against the crowd on the way back to the car. Blading our bodies and doing our best to cut through the crowd, we reach the McDonald’s, and finally the garage.

Climbing into the E46 we exit the garage and head to the highway, GPS gracefully guiding us—right until we hit a detour that stops us getting on the 720 Ouest. I attempt to follow the detour signs, but after some convoluted corners, we come to an unfortunately familiar intersection. The GPS insistently tries to reroute us onto another closed on-ramp, but after a panicky twenty-odd minutes of driving in what I hope to be the general direction towards Ottawa, we find an open on-ramp, and I floor it. The car takes to the highway with a giddying onset of Gs, and we settle back to relax, safely on our way home. Having finally seen a mutually beloved band, one day following my birthday (in addition to having delivered on my fraternal duty to better the life of my little brother, and more importantly, return him safely home), a calm washes over me.

William checks the setlist from the night prior and laments the songs we missed, but I tell him we got very lucky with all the Amnesiac songs. “Yeah, I guess,” he says.

“Next time we know to get tickets for both nights,” I grin.

Despite my defunct ducts, the journey still etches itself into my memory, even as I record these events all these months later, still feeling the stillness of my body, my hands on the wheel, the warmth of my brother beside me, the darkness of the night unfolding as a ribbon of road before us.