On their first U.S. jaunt in three years, Radiohead have overcome their fears of touring the States by coming to terms with their popularity and acclaim.
With last year’s Kid A and the recently released Amnesiac debuting at #1 and #2, respectively, and selling more than a million copies combined, according to SoundScan… well, to quote the title of the film documenting the band’s grueling tour supporting their third album, 1997’s OK Computer, meeting people really is easy.
“I really didn’t think I could deal with it at all,” frontman Thom Yorke said after the band’s performance at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday of his initial impression on returning for a Stateside tour. “I just really didn’t think I could cope.
“At the end of the OK Computer tour, when we were doing these really stupidly big gigs, I sort of felt like there were 40,000 people in [my head] and I had left. Now, I sort of don’t have that. Now it’s like, ‘All right, nice to meet you. Thank you very much.’ ”
When OK Computer was first released, Radiohead were known primarily for their 1993 radio hit “Creep,” off their debut album, Pablo Honey. The band’s second album, 1995’s The Bends, largely went unnoticed by the mainstream. As OK Computer’s success snowballed, Yorke, bassist Colin Greenwood, drummer Phil Selway and guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien faced overwhelming media requests and carried the weight of a “rock and roll saviors” tag at a time when electronica was being hyped as the next big thing.
“We viewed things differently then,” O’Brien explained. “I remember it being a very dark time and really not enjoying touring America at all. In fact, it was a f
ing nightmare, because we suddenly found ourselves in these arenas at the end of the tour. And we were not in the right frame of mind to be doing that, but we did it and it was frightening. I don’t think any of us enjoyed playing that last American tour. Each of us had our moments [where we liked it], but now it’s so different.”
The most obvious discrepancy between Radiohead then and now is the direction the last two albums have taken. Whereas monstrous guitar riffs once dominated their songs, the primary instruments on Kid A and Amnesiac are sequencers and tape manipulators. So how does the band translate such children of the studio to the live concert stage?
“It’s more about being prepared to play any kind of instrument in any combination and take those instruments on tour and not feel like a spare part just because you’re only playing a tambourine,” Jonny Greenwood said. “I think we get pretty close [to the album] – I hope we get pretty close – when we play live.”