'This is really happening': My first Radiohead concert, a dream come true at Lollapalooza

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Radiohead at Lollapalooza 2016 - Day 2
Radiohead perform on the Samsung Stage at Lollapalooza 2016 in Chicago's Grant Park on July 29, 2016. (Gabriel Grams/Getty Images for Samsung)

To say that I love Radiohead is an understatement. I've been intrigued by their music since I first heard "Paranoid Android" on a mix CD a friend made for me in my sophomore year of high school. It was a slow-burning love, but once they were in my heart, they've been my number-one band for over 10 years. (OK, I may have cheated on them a little bit with alt-J, but considering how much influence Radiohead have had on alt-J's music, I feel like that's acceptable). Despite that teensy flirtation, I just know this music is imprinted on my heart for life. That's how I justified tattooing the lyrics from one of their most beautiful musical lines on my body (it's from "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" and no, you don't get to see it).

From the massive band poster I had on my dorm wall in college to the vinyl I hang on my wall in my current apartment, I have constant visual reminders of their importance in my life. What's my favorite album? It goes through phases: Sometimes it's The Bends or OK Computer if I'm in a '90s guitar mood; sometimes it's In Rainbows, which I downloaded for free my freshman year of college because I was without credit card and also poor (I've since bought it on vinyl so I think I've made up for it); and I'm currently obsessed with A Moon Shaped Pool. I love how each album is so different stylistically, incorporating inventive guitars, strings, tight percussion, and more unusual instruments (I'm still not sure exactly what an ondes Martenot is) all topped with Thom Yorke's unique and lovely falsetto. Broken hearts [make it rain], unrequited love, death, depression, loneliness, the apocalypse: Radiohead are known for their melancholy, but it's expressed so beautifully and creatively that it lifts me up and lets me disappear completely for a little while.

Naturally, it's been a personal long-term mission to see Radiohead in concert. Not an easy feat in general, but even harder on this side of the pond. Due to the large carbon footprint that touring creates, Radiohead tour very sparsely. I'm pretty sure they've not been to Minnesota since the OK Computer tour in the 1990s, and the closest they've come since then has been a couple of stops in Chicago.

So when Radiohead's U.S. tour schedule was announced for this summer, I put the ticket sales times for the Madison Square Garden dates in my phone calendar. Hang the expense of traveling to and staying in NYC; I had a plan: I was going to be ready to go when the moment tickets went on sale and I was going to get two tickets … and if I'd been successful, this feature would've been called "My first Radiohead concert, a dream come true at MSG."

My last chance was Lollapalooza in Chicago, so on the day of one-day ticket sales, I was ready to get in the queue 10 minutes before 10 a.m. in two different web browsers. I waited and waited, temporarily stalling the work I should've been doing (sorry, boss), only to see all Friday tickets become unavailable. A low moment, yes, but I refused to give up. I reduced my ticket request from two to one and kept clicking the ticket button. And then suddenly I had a ticket in my shopping basket! I assume someone released one and I just got really lucky (Thank you, universe!). I frantically tried to get a second one, although apparently I was only getting lucky once. But this was important enough that I was prepared to go alone, so that became my plan.

The Friday of Lollapalooza's 25th anniversary year was muggy and grey, though it only made good on its threat of rain as I was waiting with the hordes to enter the festival. After I finally got in, I was rushing around frantically for a few minutes trying to figure out where the hell I was — Chicago's Grant Park is large — as I was already late for Foals. I last saw this Oxonian band in May with a stellar, practically side-stage view, but as they always put on a smashing show I was excited to see them again. Their set seemed to be pretty much the same as it was a couple months ago, but they had added "Knife in the Ocean" (basically the "Spanish Sahara" of their latest album) and as that is one of my favorite songs on What Went Down, I was pleased as punch about that.

Afterwards, I wandered in the direction of the Pepsi Stage so I could get a good spot to see one of my favorite newer bands. I fell in love with North London's Wolf Alice before their debut album came out last summer, and their Lolla set was a stunning mix of My Love is Cool and the older Creature Songs and Blush EPs. Their 90s-homage repertoire ranges from sweet and gentle to hair-raising guitar shredding and shrieking. They also put on an incredible visual live show from drummer Joel's flamboyant shirts (hello, big pink rose print and rather a lot of bare chest), guitarist Joff striking rock star poses, (while really looking more like the boy next door), and bassist Theo's cheeky dance moves and bleach-blond hair. And do not be fooled by front-woman Ellie in her cute little dresses and beaten up Dr. Martens (her style is after my own heart); she may seem soft-spoken and shy when talking to the crowd, but she screams with abandon on "Giant Peach" and "Fluffy." For the last song "Moaning Lisa Smile," she ditched her guitar and prowled the stage with the mic, forgetting her lyrics in the process and endearing herself to the crowd even more. We carried on singing for her while she happily crowd-surfed above our heads, my hands being two of the many keeping her from falling to the wet ground.

With the post-crowd surfing moment adrenaline still coursing through me, I had to make my way back to the Samsung Galaxy stage where Radiohead would be playing in 45 minutes. I'm glad I had established pretty low expectations of actually seeing the stage, so I wasn't completely devastated when it turned out that I could only catch a glimpse if I stood on my tip-toes. This is the reality for people who are 5'5".

We heard this weird voiceover (which reappeared at random throughout the show) coming from the stage before Radiohead themselves showed their faces and launched into "Burn the Witch" from A Moon Shaped Pool. It took me a little while to get settled as I quickly discovered that the Jumbotrons could not be relied upon for stage viewing. It wasn't your typical stage camera feed. It was split into multiple screens, each covering different members of the band, including the extra drummer supplementing Phil Selway. Sometimes there was no video at all, and other times the screens showed special light effects. So I'm afraid that I often had trouble being able to tell exactly what each member was doing during each song, but I got the general idea. Jonny Greenwood, of course, played the role of multi-instrumentalist- in-chief, playing lead guitar, aux percussion, synths, keys and so much else. During "Pyramid Song," he appeared to be playing his guitar upright and bowing the strings with a violin or cello bow. Ed O'Brien covered another guitar, but also sang back-up vocals and vocal effects in addition to joining Phil and Jonny on the tom-tom game on "There There." The elder Greenwood, Colin did his usual stellar bass work. And as for Thom Yorke, he was on good form, switching between guitars and piano as his beautiful voice soared over the band. He performed his own unique style of dance, bless him, to "Identikit," "Idioteque" and "Myxomatosis" among others.

Yorke kept conversation with the crowd to a minimum, with a simple "how's your weekend going?" or introducing a few songs like "My Iron Lung" ("It's good to be angry sometimes") or "Bodysnatchers" ("Ready, boys?"). He soothed the crowd with "Where were we? It's ok, it's ok, it's ok, it's ok. There, there, there, there, there" — I'm sure you can figure out which song came after that!

The louder and more energetic songs translated best to live performance as people kept talking through the quieter ones. I personally would've liked (unrealistically) to be able to hear songs like "Daydreaming" and "Pyramid Song" in total reverent silence. At least people were quieter during "Nude," which is one of my favorite songs to sing along with and definitely one of Radiohead's most beautiful compositions. I've always loved to sing along with Thom, and I kind of couldn't believe that we were singing together live —though of course we weren't alone. The OK Computer numbers, in particular, definitely enjoyed the most enthusiastic singing. Imagine a crowd of what felt like a million belting, "No alarms and no surprises, please", or commanding the sky to "Rain down, rain down on me" (it didn't though), and the Karma Police to arrest the man who talks in maths and the girl with the Hitler hairdo. Singing one of my favorite lines, "Phew, for a minute there I lost myself" with Thom and that many people was a moving experience.

By the end of "Karma Police," however, I was ready to leave, having stood for about seven hours straight in cheap wellies. I'll admit the physical pain became hard to ignore an hour into the set, which was a bummer. Nevertheless, I count myself incredibly lucky to have been at this concert. Granted, there were some songs that I would've liked to have heard — "Lucky" and also "Decks Darks" and "Optimistic" — but really, considering what I DID get to hear and how many thousands of people wish they could've been in my shoes, it's silly to complain.

Seeing Radiohead perform live at long last was a dream come true … and I may not have the chance again.

Setlist


Burn the Witch
Daydreaming
Ful Stop
2+2=5
Myxomatosis
My Iron Lung
Climbing Up The Walls
No Surprises
Pyramid Song
Bloom
Identikit
The Numbers
The Gloaming
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Everything in its Right Place
Idioteque
There There

Encore
Let Down
Present Tense
Paranoid Android
Nude
Bodysnatchers

Second Encore
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Karma Police

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