There are certain albums that I can listen to no matter the setting, the time, or my relative emotional stability. The Clash’s London Calling sounds like a masterpiece when I’m happy or sad; the Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, when I’m angry or calm; and to use an example from this century, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, when I’m running or ready to fall asleep. They’re Swiss Army knife albums, appropriate for any situation.
The flip side of this is the situation album. The environment needs to be just right for maximum enjoyment. Let’s call it the Radiohead Rule.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I like Radiohead as much as anyone who read Pitchfork in the 2000s. OK Computer and Kid A are rightly hailed as masterpieces; The Bends is nearly as good; Pablo Honey is slight but fun; In Rainbows has “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” which is simply an excellent song. But I don’t consider myself a Radiohead fan. I can’t just turn on “Everything in Its Right Place.” I need to be driving in a car, late at night, by myself, with the windows up, going much faster than I should be. Radiohead songs make you paint a mental picture, and it’s hard to create great art during your lunch break at the food court. I play OK Computer when I’m feeling alienated, Hail to the Thief when I’m stressed, and The King of Limbs, well, never. (I do not care for The King of Limbs.) But whenever I share my specific opinion of Radiohead with a diehard, I always get the same response: “You gotta see them live.” (If context listens is the Radiohead Rule, then this is the Phish Rule.)
Radiohead has been on my concert bucket list for years, but for whatever reason, I never got around to seeing them. (In my defense, I also haven’t seen Atoms for Peace.) That changed this weekend, when the group played Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin, TX’s annual celebration of tacos and music. The environment was certainly perfect for a Radiohead show: the weather was stuck somewhere between hot and cold, and Foals and Flying Lotus, who played before the headliners, keep the crowd moving and entertained. As for the set itself: in honor of “2 + 2 = 5″ (The Lukewarm.),” which they dusted off, here are five things I learned about Radiohead and, I guess, myself.