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.
It was also the last time the band played “Creep” in Philadelphia, a moment documented in the Meeting People film: landing in the encore, the entire audience sang along at top volume, and Yorke laughed, shrugged, and just pointed the mic in their direction — the same eye-rolling, IDGAF disdain we got when the band played “The Bends” at Wells Fargo Center earlier this month. This is a band that harbors long running, thoroughly-documented emotional difficulties with large crowds of fans who adore their most basic moments but talk loudly over their most complex and interesting.
Thankfully, there was more to this show than a deflated “Creep,” and as we can see in this archival video of the show, the band was on fire. Almost all of OK Computer is performed — “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “Let Down” and “The Tourist” are the only omissions — along with deep cuts like the “Paranoid Android” b-side “Polyethylene (Part 2),” and the Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack slow-burner “Talk Show Host.” But the set also includes a Pablo track other than “Creep” (the radiant “Lurgee”), and from their 1995 pop pinnacle The Bends (this writer’s favorite Radiohead album of the 90s, if we’re being honest), we get seven of its 12 songs. These days, hearing the band play “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is like waiting to spot a Yeti, so a show where that is on the setlist, PLUS “Just,” PLUS “Planet Telex,” PLUS “My Iron Lung”…just wow.
Watch the entire performance below, care of Philly concert video man Markit Aneight. Were you at this concert? Leave your memories in the comments.
Exit Music (for a Film)
Talk Show Host
My Iron Lung
Fake Plastic Trees
Climbing Up the Walls
Polyethylene (Part 2)
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
UPDATE: A ticket stub from this show was uncovered in an old Instagram post by a reader, and you can see it below. Ticket face value was $15. FIFTEEN. DOLLARS. TO. SEE. RADIOHEAD. When you adjust for inflation, it’s still only $23.51. Even considering the $4 convenience charge, this concert was an unbelievable bargain.
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