Music Features

Radiohead and Jeff Mangum - Live

I saw Jeff Mangum on Monday, April 16th 2012. I saw Radiohead the previous week, on Monday, April 9th 2012. These were the best consecutive Mondays of my life, and I don’t think that one-two punch will ever be topped. I’m kind of broke, tired of the boring 2 hour I-5 drive to Seattle, and I’m completely and totally satisfied with two very, very different concert experiences. 

Radiohead have, at this point, joined rock's canon of greats, both on record and on the stage. The King of Limbs may have been a minor letdown, but it was simply a slight hiccup in an otherwise inscrutable catalog from 1994 onwards. I’ve seen them once before, at the White River Amphitheater in rural Washington. I was 18, had just finished high school, and, while a straight man, I would have done dirty, dirty things to Thom Yorke had he asked me to. I had a Radiohead sticker on my climbing helmet, I paid out the ass for the In Rainbows box set, and I tried to use Senator Maria Cantwell’s computers to buy pre-sale tickets. I’m not kidding. That show was, and remains, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Everything came together perfectly: I was the right age for it, they had just released one of the finest records of their career, and I was completely and utterly obsessed with the band. It poured rain all night, and not a single person on the lawn seats left before the last note of the second encore was played. It was magical.

I was hesitant heading into my second Radiohead show, fully realizing the subjective factors that had influenced the magic of the first. They were at the Key Arena in Seattle this time, a venue so shitty it made the basketball team move to Oklahoma. Despite my reservations, I was not disappointed. It wasn’t as purely magical as the first time, but it couldn’t have been. The stage setup was just as incredible as before, taking the giant LED rods and adding ten or so large, rotating screens. Songs from The King of Limbs took on a new life, especially Bloom. The audience was enchanted. Again, no one moved. A girl next to me cried during Lucky. They’re the only band I can think of that can pull from any part of their catalog and more than satisfy the majority of the audience. They come to bask in the glow of Thom Yorke and company, and they get exactly what they want. The best songs live are never the ones you expect: Idioteque, a great but fairly quiet song on record, works the crowd into a jittery frenzy. The Gloaming is a song I often skip, but has a drastic live presence. There’s a reason their shows sell out so fast. They have a way of making every song, every note, feel massive. Same goes for The King of Limbs dud Feral. They can make you feel both alone and part of a massive, collective experience. They can turn a piece of shit venue into a cathedral for two hours. 

Jeff Mangum was, to say the least, a bit different. He played the Moore Theater in downtown Seattle, a far cry from the Key Arena. There’s no standing space at the Moore, no Live Nation pat downs. It’s just better. It’s right next to Pike Place Market instead of Seattle Center and the Space Needle. Parking is easier. I can go on and on. Mangum played solo for the most part, and I’ve never seen so much praise thrown at a lone man with an acoustic guitar. In the words of my friend Justin, “I felt kind of like a 13 year old girl watching Justin Bieber.” There was no big light setup, no complicated instruments, just a guitars and an off-key voice. He was occasionally joined by members of the opening act playing French horns, trumpets, and any other required brass/woodwind instruments. An usher with a floor tom joined the show for Two Headed Boy/The Fool. It was low-key, with Mangum holding a consistent dialogue with the audience during his frequent tune-ups. He was unexpectedly warm and friendly.  It had a thrown-together quality to it, but so does his music. I never dreamed I’d see him live, and I know I wasn’t alone. Everyone knew every line of his wordy songs.  

I expected the quality of the show to rely on who he was more than how well he played, but that wasn’t the case. His presence, demeanor and showmanship were impressive. He dragged Oh Comely out to a blissful length, letting the notes in the wordless breaks ring out into the full-but-dead-silent theater in one of the show's most captivating moments. The loud crowd sing-along to King of Carrot Flowers and the inclusion of the ushers and opening act in the show were similarly enchanting. 

So there you go. Two Mondays, two very different, very good shows. The crowds at both were incredibly diverse, showcasing the universality of both Mangum and Radiohead. They both inspire a strange cult of personality and legions of obsessed fans, and many overlapped. I can’t say if one was better than the other because I don’t think they can be fairly compared; all I can say is that I’m not looking forward to concert-less Mondays.