This past spring, I traveled to England with only one goal: Marry the artistically enigmatic and mysteriously eccentric Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke. Even though my backup plan was just as unrealistic and far-fetched as my marriage proposal scheme — have Radiohead perform at Spring Fling — I did encounter two major setbacks.
1) Yorke happily fathered a child, thus he is no longer unattached and available, and 2) the chances of Yale and New Haven attracting one of the most highly acclaimed and revered rock bands in the world without renaming a street or rededicating a building in honor of the Oxford-based quintet are slim. Almost nonexistent. Let’s face the harsh reality together: Elm Street isn’t being renamed “Paranoid Android Avenue,” and Connecticut Hall isn’t becoming “OK Computer Hall” any time soon.
But do not despair, gentle readers. Yes, we’ll probably never have Radiohead set foot on a stage in the middle of Old Campus. But with the release of I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings this week, the opportunity to experience the mesmerizing melodic riffs, ethereal vocals, experimental synthesized beats and unrestrained harmonic intensity of a live Radiohead performance has finally arrived. On I Might Be Wrong, vocalist guitarist Yorke, guitarists Ed O’Brien and Johnny Greenwood, bassist Colin Greenwood, and drummer Phil Selway offer a 40-minute fantastical escape into a melancholy dreamscape; they explore longing, fear, alienation, heartbreak, paranoia, redemption, and ever-so-slight glimmers of hope.
The album teasingly contains only eight songs recorded live during various performances in Oslo, Berlin, Vaison Le Romaine (Southern France) and Oxford from this past summer. Seven of the songs come directly from the band’s two most recent studio albums. “I Might Be Wrong,” “Like Spinning Plates” and “Dollars & Cents” come from the June 2001 release, Amnesiac. Four songs, “The National Anthem,” “Morning Bell,” “Idioteque” and “Everything In Its Right Place,” are from Kid A, the band’s highly anticipated 2000 release after their hyper-technological, mechanical masterpiece OK Computer from 1997. The last track on the album, the beautiful and hauntingly The Bends-esque acoustic guitar ballad “True Love Waits” is the only previously unreleased (though heavily bootlegged) song.
While a CD cannot truly recreate the spirit of a band, the mood of a crowd, or the atmosphere of a venue, I Might Be Wrong does capture the pulsating energy and electrifying drive of a Radiohead live performance. Thunderous applause and approving cheers during songs have not been edited out, especially during the heavy, pounding bass, drum and tambourine intro of “I Might Be Wrong” or the bittersweet, melodic piano intro of “Like Spinning Plates.” On “Idioteque,” Yorke’s high-pitched, emotional vocal frenzy ignites the audience, who can be heard singing forcefully along to the ominous lyrics, “Ice age coming, ice age coming/ Let me hear both sides– /Ice age coming, ice age coming/ Throw me in the fire, Throw me in the fire, Throw me in the –” as the tempo increases and Yorke’s voice gradually crescendos, spinning out of control.
As I discovered at the Radiohead concert in Boston over the past summer that the band does not spontaneously improvise or deviate greatly from the studio versions of their album songs, the tracks selected for I Might Be Wrong equally reflect a minimal divergence from the original studio songs. For example, only “Morning Bell” and “Idioteque” are not carbon-copies of their Kid A originals. On the live version of “Morning Bell,” during the repetition of the disturbingly dark chorus “Cut the kids in half,” a knifelike chopping noise is discernable for several measures. And on the techno-inspired “Idioteque,” a high-pitched, tinny electronic riff is encoded in the synthesized musical and vocal texture.
I Might Be Wrong provides a brief but exquisite journey into the progressive art rock world of Radiohead for those who have not had the chance to experience the surreal sensation of a live Radiohead performance. And even though Radiohead might never grace our ears with live music in New Haven, there’s always hope that Thom Yorke can be Class Day speaker.