Around the beginning of this century, Radiohead lost interest in being a rock band. And can we blame them, honestly? Any doc you’ll watch on the “alternative” era — from the band’s own Meeting People Is Easy, released in 1998, back to 1992’s The Year Punk Broke, documenting Sonic Youth’s run on the European festival circuit — demonstrates how for all its perceived authenticity, this generation of artists was never completely unspoiled by the gross clutches of corporate commercialism. Even if they kept it at a distance, global capitalism was never far, and it must have been exhausting and emotionally sapping: everybody around you is trying to use you to make a name or a buck, and your choices are either ride the wave and then check out, or play the long game flip it to your advantage.
Thom Yorke, Johnny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brian and Philip Selway chose the latter route; each record they released was more challenging, and met with greater acclaim, and while none of their other 90s hits reached the chart-topping ubiquity of their debut single “Creep,” I don’t think you’ll find anybody arguing that Pablo Honey is their best album.
That honor typically goes to 1997’s OK Computer, a wild and wide-reaching magnum opus that dabbles in mind-bending psychedelic experimentation, the technical prowess of prog, and good old fashion anthems critiquing society and its mind-numbing, isolated, consumerist drudgery as the curtain fell on the 20th century.
But for all its unconventional intricacies, OK Computer still was, at its core, a rock record. This was before Radiohead began using its position and privilege to make, quite frankly, whatever the hell kind of music it felt like. Before the haunting minimal electronic tone-scapes of Kid A, before the broke-down patchwork of Hail to the Thief‘s unrest, before the orchestral elegies of A Moon Shaped Pool. And as such, Radiohead’s performance at the Electric Factory on August 24, 1997 was the last time they played Philly as a rock band. Continue reading →