Phish, Radiohead and YES: Live Concerts in Review

With 2018 coming to a close, Spotify users can now review their music history through a feature called 2018 Wrapped. This feature, which has been around for three years now, shows users cool statistics such as one’s number of minutes listened, most streamed songs and, based on one’s top artists and bands, one’s top genre. Although I rarely use Spotify for streaming, Spotify determined that my favorite genre was rock . . . and for good reason. Three of my favorite bands– Phish, Radiohead and YES– are all typically termed as rock bands. Yet, despite their collective grouping under the genre, these bands could not be more different. While listening to these bands alone demonstrates the vast variations which exist within the rock genre, nothing proves this more than experiencing each of these bands live. This year, I set out to do just that. 

I saw YES this summer at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. One of the most acclaimed progressive rock bands ever, YES, in their 50th anniversary tour, continued to demonstrate their greatness. Although no founding members remain in YES (note: there are now two incarnations of YES and each had their own 50th anniversary tour: YES and YES Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman–this article addresses the former), its current members, including long time guitarist Steve Howe and Alan White, continue to evoke the features which led to YES’ distinctive sound–experimentation, harmony, and avant-garde lyrics. This commitment to founding principles made up for the lack-luster lights and atmosphere and resulted in a great show. While most of YES’ music does not quite match my tastes, I still hold tremendous respect for their contributions to music and am glad that I managed to see them live.

I had waited a long time to see Radiohead and this year I finally received the opportunity. I saw them twice this summer: first at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and second at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Each performance was incredible in its own way. In Detroit, Radiohead displayed its incredible versatility, playing both driving, dissonant songs such as “2+2=5,” and softer, intimate songs such as “Fake Plastic Trees.” Their performance, coupled with mesmerizing lights and the incredible atmosphere of the newly renovated arena, made for an unforgettable experience. While some set-list similarities existed in Radiohead’s Cincinnati show, overall, they played a lot of different songs and gave almost an entirely different show. Since the show did not sell out, my brother and I managed to get closer to the stage and that made it all the more memorable. The coolest moment from the Cincinnati show, however, occurred when Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien both gave me a wave before exiting the stage. Radiohead closed out both shows with one of their more widely recognized songs– “Karma Police.” Hearing a stadium full of people sing along to this song was nothing short of magical. It was a moment I hope to never forget.

I saw Phish twice at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. Although I had seen them live before, I did not truly appreciate the awesomeness of their live sets until this year. Many people label Phish as merely a jam band. While they do jam, they always change the structure and sound of their jams, making their music extremely interesting and fun. One never knows quite what to expect from them because of their vast number of songs and the improvisations made within those songs. Their musicianship always mesmerizes me. Phish also possesses some of the nicest, loyal fans and their concerts always feature incredible light displays. Overall, Phish’s live concerts always guarantee a unique, unforgettable experience (go to one of their live concerts and you will understand what I mean). 

While 2018 gave me some incredible memories, I look forward to 2019 and the new musical adventures that await. Although I love to stream music and follow my favorite bands and artists online, nothing truly compares to the beauty of live concerts. Music, after all, surpasses the boundaries of sound. It represents a spectrum of emotions and these emotions are best shared with other people.

Twenty Years Old Never Sounded So Amazing: OK Computer OKNOTOK

Like wine, Radiohead gets better with age. If Radiohead’s eerie, yet beautiful ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, failed to convince you of this fact, Radiohead’s 20th anniversary edition of OK Computer, OKNOTOK, surely will. OKNOTOK not only contains remastered versions of the original twelve tracks and all eight of the B-side tracks, but also features three previously unreleased tracks: “I Promise,” “Man of War” and Lift.” Unfortunately, because bands and artists have noticed that fewer and fewer people listen to tracks sequentially anymore, many no longer prioritize modifying and arranging their album’s tracks in a manner conducive to sequential listening. Radiohead, however, did not take this approach with OKNOTOK. From listening to the first track alone of OKNOTOK, one will notice that Radiohead went to great lengths to make their remastered album even more conducive to sequential listening than the original. The last three seconds of “Airbag,” instead of just ending, actually make up the original intro to the next track, “Paranoid Android.” By closing the gap between the two tracks, the change, although subtle, marks a huge improvement over the original. Overall, this flow remains noticeable throughout the entire album because of the noiseless seconds Radiohead shaved off the ends of its tracks. While these changes may seem minor to many, the seamless transitions truly give the album new life. The new tracks, meanwhile, fit seamlessly into the album’s themes of apprehension, uncertainty, injustice and ultimately, escape. Although Radiohead had completed the “new” tracks seen on OKNOTOK back in 1997, they did not release them, perhaps fearing they would not measure up to the rest of the album. For example, according to Apple Music’s synopsis of OKNOTOK, Thom Yorke claims Radiohead did not release the new track, “I Promise” twenty years ago “because we didn’t think it was good enough.” Even though Radiohead’s bonus tracks often sound better than most bands’ feature tracks, Radiohead, because of the importance they place on producing high quality music, will always remain Radiohead’s biggest critic. Nevertheless, “I Promise” definitely deserves its place in OKNOTOK. Featuring Thom Yorke’s melancholy voice, a guitar-driven melody, and occasional synth, “I Promise” gives listeners a comforting blend of sounds culminating together to make a peaceful ending. In the next track, “Man of War,” however, Radiohead throws listeners for a loop through an eerie combination of keyboard, synth, and screeching electric guitar. While perhaps unnerving to some listeners, the song’s grunge feel offers glimpses back into the sounds characteristic of Radiohead’s second album, The Bends.  The final “new” track, “Lift,” offers a transcendent look into the life of one “stuck in a lift.” Featuring some beautiful harmonies between synthesizer and Yorke’s voice, “Lift” succeeds in adding further lyrical depth to the original OK Computer. The rest of the album features all eight of the remastered B-side tracks, which, for the sake of brevity, I will not review. Yet, the last track, “How I Made My Millions,” deserves recognition. From the song’s inception, listener’s will notice a lack of audio quality and strange sounds in the background. Unlike the other tracks, Yorke recorded this song at home on his four-track recorder and the background noises consist of his girlfriend cleaning the house. Almost all of the tracks on OKNOTOK sound (despite the musical “chaos,” at times) polished and professional. However, one can not say the same about “How I Made My Millions.” Nevertheless, the raw coupling of piano with Yorke’s voice strikes listeners with a mesmerizing beauty and makes the song a brilliant conclusion to one of the greatest albums ever. So, even if you may wish to leave 2017 and all of its failures and successes in the past, do yourself a favor: sit down and listen in entirety to the remastered, full of “No Surprises” album, OK Computer OKNOTOK.