Pittsburgh was 65 degrees, and the early-March electricity had made its effective rounds, even with rain in the forecast. I had a tough time finding parking: the venue had no parking lot. I parked my car a few blocks away, and walked through the damp streets of Millvale. No parking was a good thing.
Indeed, no parking spaces is a cue to a full and stirring venue here in Pittsburgh, and when inside, I found that twice the amount of people had shown up for their farewell tour than had shown up for the band’s headlining tour last May with This Providence and Paper Route. It was evident that people had shown up for a reason. Perhaps having a reason to show up—conducting a farewell tour—is why Copeland was playing in his final tour in the first place.
Upon first look – after exceptional sets from Deas Vail, Person L, and I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business—Aaron Marsh is dressed as if its early December in Nantucket. His stocking cap, scarf, and overcoat herald to colds and winter, perhaps marking a metaphor for Marsh who had had some vocal issues a few nights before in New York.
However, it’s spring here in Pittsburgh and Copeland isn’t a band that’s starved itself with years and years of touring on meal tickets and abysmal guarantees. Having sold out this same venue on tours in support of In Motion and Eat, Sleep, Repeat, the band’s success was expansive enough to take them literally around the world: being successful enough as a band to get to a farewell tour presupposes excellence. This is one last hurrah; for both the band and its fans.
Opening with “Take Care,” Copeland went right back to where they started, which wasn’t surprising but fed the crowd’s metabolism for the nostalgic feelings that anything from Beneath The Medicine Tree is sure to conjure. Followed by “Careful Now” and “I’m A Sucker For A Kind Word”, Marsh played guitar, and it was a rock show, with thick guitars and a gentle dissonance of energy as each member moved to and fro. “The Grey Man” beckoned Marsh to the keys as he sang, “Don’t worry now/it’s all erased/burn to grey and white”, with sweat beading off his beard and face, head bent forward in that familiar croon. Enter the grainy, reverberating wall of sound, complete with drummer Jon Bucklew, the human-metronome, building the backbone behind Copeland’s swooning musical caresses, with the Laurenson brothers gently shifting back and forth, sometimes singing to themselves. It’s in the moments like in “Chin Up” that the intensely personal sentiments that have garnered Copeland’s success infiltrate the crowd, like a sweeping invisible phantom, recruiting for something intoxicating, causing the crowd to close its eyes in worship of something without being beckoned to do so.
Coming off a case of vocal problems that almost forced the band to cancel their New York date, Marsh’s vocals held up, even with the stressful falsetto he’s become known for. “Coffee” found the crowd creating its own imagery in each audience member’s own coffee shop, in their own town and with their very best friend. In “On The Safest Ledge”, Marsh filled in the part of Rae Cassidy beautifully and captured the audience with “The Day I Lost My Voice,” a song that’s best stripped-down to easy keyboard and guitar swells.
Of course, it would be amiss for the band not to include In Motion classics like “Pin Your Wings” and “No One Really Wins”, warming up the band for “When Paula Sparks” and “California”, with the tremendous guitar melody of the latter seemingly clasping onto the venue ceiling in strength. Seeing the band jam back and forth at the drum riser reminded me of Copeland a la 2006, and was indeed a fulfilling sight to see the band genuinely enjoying themselves, letting the ropes of shoegazing break free.
Pittsburgh, despite allowing enough awkward silence between songs to make Larry David break gaze, called for the encore, as Marsh and the elder Laurenson came out to perform “Brightest” before the band closed with “You Have My Attention”, again culminating against the drum riser, amidst freeing cheers and shouts from the crowd. And how intensely appropriate that this should occur under stained-glass windows and mammoth curtains of the old Catholic church where the band toured and sold out times many times before—a literal sanctuary, serving a similar purpose to its theological beginnings, a union of two entities in a pure exchange of musical love, except this time, it’s the last time.
I’m A Sucker For A Kind Word
The Grey Man
On The Safest Ledge
Eat, Sleep, Repeat
The Day I Lost My Voice
Pin Your Wings
No One Really Wins
When Paula Sparks
It's a fair question to ask what the barren landscape of east central Ohio has to offer on a dry Thanksgiving eve: Akron itself is a doldrum of a town that hides it's music gem Musica down an alley.
It's a hometown show for Lovedrug, a band that has suffered as victims to both burglars and arsonists, and to the music industry itself. With a stolen and burnt trailer and van combo years behind them, the band has returned to the bare-bones approach of doing-it-yourself: no-label, no problem.
Poised behind a merch table that's selling the bands discography at a horrifyingly low price of ten dollars, James Childress and Thomas Bragg chat with fans and with each other, in a room that feels more like a coffee shop than a music venue. As I sit on the rail, pondering the band's set-list, word arrives that this will the band's longest set of their careers at seventeen songs, operating under a "Have It Your Way," theme for fans -- they get to help choose. Pre-emptive blog posts on myspace suggested a return to the Pretend You're Alive era, which could have meant both a baptism for the band as they turn the corner as a new entity, and a nostalgic return to an album that haunted and pleased in harmony.
When the band finally took the stage at about 10:15, the opening chords to "Skeleton Jill" seemed to universally confirm to the crowd to much of the material that had rested on the band's shelves had finally come life, with textured guitars swirling and pushing forward in waves. Followed by "The Monster," my brow soon became furrowed at the eerie and haunting story told by Michael Shepard -- who was all smiles. "Blood like" and crowd-favorite "Pretend You're Alive" were both intimately honest, acting as a pleasing segway into a slew of new songs, such as "Pink Champagne", "Dead In The Water", "We Were Owls", and "She's Disaster", staggered by the angelic "Ghost By Your Side" and "Rocknroll". It was evident the band had breached a different ground with the new material, ground that isn't as gloomy or cynical as the band's previous release, The Sucker Punch Show. Indeed, the crowd was pleased and sung along, having evidently taken up the band's offer to download a set of the new music on the band's purevolume page.
Closing out the set with three songs from Pretend You're Alive, Childress slips up on "Blackout", causing the band to stop playing with Shepard jokingly questioning Childress' performance: "What are you doing? We've been playing this song for seven years." With a roar from the crowd the band picks back up without reserve and closes out the set with "Spiders," and "Radiology," culminating with Shepard and Bragg on their backs on the floor.
After a brief intermission, the band returned for the nightcap with "The Narcoleptic," and "Down Towards the Healing," the crowd taking the lead with "let the thunders take me under, break my legs tonight," pleased, and with stomachs full of rich artistry and pure sentiments, wondering how they were to eat Thanksgiving dinner the next day.
1. Skeleton Jill
2. The Monster
3. Blood Like
4. Prentend You're Alive
5. Pink Champagne
6. Ghost By Your Side
8. Dead In The Water
9. We Were Owls
10. She's Disaster
11. Borrowed Legs
12. Doomsday and the Echo
16. The Narcoleptic
17. Down Towards The Healing
I am aglow. I am aloft. I am eccentric and electric.
To me, Radiohead has always been a band that beckons an understanding deeper than the music they create. Their mystique and idiosyncracies have represented more than blips and bleeps on a widespread musical map. Radiohead represent an intelligent creativity, both mysterious and illuminating.
I wish to preserve the happenings of last night in a glass jar, sealed tight with a small hammer, canned, and placed upon my mantle, or perhaps under my bed to be removed and smelled in the fullness of phenomenon and emotion, relived completely. Or maybe sealed up in amber, like those ancient mosquitoes.
Blossom Music Center was sold out, packed and brimming, smoking and gently seething on the hill beside and under the trees and under the pavilion respectively, adorned in wood paneling, stained to a mahogany red and beautiful. My seat was dead center under the pavilion, three rows behind the sound board.
When Radiohead took the stage, amid a candelabra of shimmering pipes hanging from the ceiling, lighted this way and that, there was an eruption of cheering. A goofy smile was plastered on my face as the band struck up “15 Step.”
With that, there is much to say about the minimalistic qualities of the band’s recordings, but live, everything is magnified and capacious, the atmosphere much richer with resonation as everything blends wonderfully. Equally as engaging was Thom Yorke’s vocals which cut succinctly through the layers of sound. And not once did I hear a bad note.
The band worked through a massive 25 songs, playing much of In Rainbows with an equal mish-mash from their previous releases. Yorke danced and caroused his way through “National Anthem”, his eccentric step and swing complemented by the musical kaleidoscope from guitarist/sampler Jonny Greenwood, whose arrangements of delay and electronics echoed brilliantly against the maddening crowd of over 20,000. Drummer Phil Selway found me with a new appreciation for his drumming, which I’ve always rendered as simplistic. Live, however, his often a-rhythmic stylings and beats work splendidly.
Much can also be said for the fantastical light show which never repeated a color scheme or pattern, supplementing each song independently. Notable performances included “Street Spirit”, and the highlight of my night with “Idioteque”, convulsing the crowd into one amalgamated mass, and “All I Need” hushing the crowd with an ambience like a thick lavender blanket.
One lacking characteristic was the crowd which seemingly didn’t sing along at all; perhaps because everyone was in awe, or perhaps because they didn’t want to miss a thing, such as I. However, when the first notes of “Paranoid Android” struck out, the crowd assembled to the ranks, and voices could be heard singing out loudly, “God loves his children, God loves his children.”
After two encores and about two hours, the band closed the night with “Everything In Its Right Place”, a closer that not only allowed for an appropriately long and filling ending, but also fell along archetypal lines, closing out one of the most important musical landmarks in my life, as each member left the stage with a wave until Colin Greenwood finally stood up from his pedalboard leaving a loop to play out until the house lights came on and everyone started home under the stars, with everything in its right place.
All I Need
Bangers ‘n’ Mash/Wolf At The Door
Climbing Up The Walls
How To Disappear
Dollars + Cents
House of Cards
Everything In Its Right Place