In this current time of crisis for Haiti, it seems the world is up in arms together, going to great lengths to help the country in a time of dire need. There is no dollar amount that could be paid to erase the devastation caused by this recent tragedy, but tonight Radiohead took a stand in their unique way to try and help. Instead of selling a single and donating the proceeds to charity, the band played one show at one of the finest venues in Los Angeles, The Henry Fonda Theater (often referred to as the Music Box). And instead of asking for donations or charging an exorbitant ticket price, the band put every ticket of the show up for auction on Ticketmaster. Needless to say, every ticket was purchased, the lowest winning bid? $475.00. What was the highest any fan paid to see the show? Just over $2,000.00.
Radiohead opted to have 100% of the gross go to Oxfam (a rep from Ticketmaster confirmed they were taking no portion of the money), a non-profit concern that was already in Haiti before the earthquake struck. Two of Oxfam’s representatives–Lindsay Cruz and Bob Ferguson–were on hand and were kind enough to answer a few questions. Cruz offered that all of the money raised from the show would go to, “Water and sanitation. That’s what’s needed most.” When asked what it would take to try and fix the devastation caused by the incident she offered, “I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on it. The need continues to grow.” She mentioned that Congo and Darfur were two of the organization’s other priorities in long-standing need of help. Ferguson stated other bands might do similar relief efforts as well, citing “Flogging Molly” as one act that may do a show in Denver.
Nary ten minutes later, Radiohead took to the stage. The band started simply with Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood playing only acoustic guitars for “Faust Arp.” The acoustic rendering continued briefly on the The Bends-era classic “Fake Plastic Trees” before the band exploded into the song’s finale—a trick that seemed to be the motif of the night—a methodical melody swirled into a cacophonous, irresistible crescendo. Furthering on the cacophonous side, Kid A‘s “The National Anthem” stormed into a manic frenzy, Colin Greenwood’s distorted bassline anchoring the tempo. “Nude,” a near-ballad song turned into a voluminous swell as Yorke effortlessly ascended like a spiral staircase into his upper register with the incendiary line, “You’ll go to Hell / For what your dirty mind is thinking.” It’s easy to forget how overwhelmingly graceful he can be with his voice.
In a surprising twist, the band’s classic “Karma Police” came next. If it wasn’t enough to hear the lightly hammered piano accompanying, “This is what you’ll get / when you mess with us,” the crowd’s furious singalong of the outro refrain, “For a minute there / I lost myself / I lost myself” was breathtaking. Just as 2007’s In Rainbows proved, the band’s greatest assets are often the precision rhythm section of Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway. On “Kid A” and “Morning Bell” Greenwood and Selway stayed in close proximity with one another, keeping close eye contact as Selway batted out the rhythm with determined fervor. The two locked the band’s sound into place and could with simple tempo alteration quicken a song’s pulse as well as the audience’s.
The set also included some stellar deeper cuts. “A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll.)” and “The Bends” were among them, the former a menacing parade of lyrical attacks from Yorke (“Dance you fucker / Dance you fucker / Don’t you dare”) and the latter just plain rocked. Diehard fans of Radiohead’s more straightforward material will be happy to know they even played “How to Disappear Completely” in all of its meditative beauty.
The band played loose in a good way. A couple of songs had accidental miscues at their beginning, but the group seemed to be enjoying the evening too much to be worried. Thom Yorke joked with the crowd, even responding to one fan’s catcall of “I love you” with “I love you too!” Losing none of their professional acumen though, seeing them in this setting proved that they have a chemistry unlike the modern generation has known, perhaps even on the level of natural, technical precision the likes of which is often spoke of in regards to Pink Floyd? “Bodysnatchers” was like a tidal wave of sound; gruff riffs evolved over three minutes into a raucous onslaught of noisy guitar stabs, guitarist Ed O’Brien thrashed around while sonic architect Jonny Greenwood here almost looked like he was attacking his guitar.
Near the end of the first set proper, Yorke gave the crowd the choice between “Airbag” and “Just.” The crowd opted for “Airbag” from OK Computer and its light atmospherics. But the real treat of the night came next: “Exit Music (For a Film).” The sound of a collective “Shhhh!” rang out from the fans as Yorke lightly strummed the songs opening chords. To anyone who knows it (and for anyone who might be curious), the song’s crescendo is one of the finest treats a music fan can witness. The swelling drones and high-toned tremolo picking lift the closing wail of “We are one / in everlasting piece / We hope / that you choke” to unimagined heights.
In the first encore, Yorke began with a solo version of “Everything in its Right Place,” using only piano and none of the song’s standard regenerating samples. Upping the ante on their blend of epic grandeur and beautiful contemplation, the crowd was then treated to Amnesiac‘s “You and Whose Army?” and “Pyramid Song” as well as In Rainbows‘ “All I Need.” The gap before the second encore found the crowd stomping thunderously for more. This time they began with Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood alone on what Yorke referred to as a “new” song, “Lotus Flower.” Almost entirely Yorke finger-picking on clean electric guitar, the song was graceful in its simplicity. There were no swells, no tempo changes; just a sweet country swagger that ensured it was a huge hit in the making. Before finishing out with the one-two punch of “Paranoid Android” (still stunning in scope and form over a decade after its release) and (appropriately) “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” Yorke announced the money raised from the tickets auctioned. No joke: $572,754.00.
Normally, the thing to do would be to give Radiohead credit for thinking outside the box. Normally, that would be the thing to do. But Radiohead always thinks outside the box. They think outside the box so much its like second nature to them. And in this case, by merely doing what they do best–flooring a capacity a crowd with immaculate musical competence and whimsical beauty–they managed to raise over half a million dollars for a whole country in need. It may not solve the problem, but it’s inspiring to see Radiohead use what’s available to them to try to affect real change.
If you’d like to help, please donate to Oxfam and help bring more clean water to Haiti.
All photos by Raymond Flotat
Update: Video of the entire set is now available for viewing right here: