Slate Thinks Radiohead Should Stop Touring. As Usual, Slate Is Wrong.

Senior Pop Culture Editor
06.27.12 5 Comments

History was made today, folks: Slate just published the most Slate article ever. It began so innocently:

Radiohead is the best large venue band I have ever seen perform, on or off drugs, in the history of my interest in music. They are the early 1980s Van Halen of auditory cortex high-kicks. They’re as improvisational and fluid as Phish without the masturbatory soloing (though they do seem to share some tour-following, nitrous-huffing fans). The band’s light and video shows, together with its disorienting, mesmerizing, fantastic music, makes the Flaming Lips’ theatrics look like cheap parlor tricks.

Oh, wow, writer Ben Johnson must really like Radiohead, even if that Van Halen reference was a bit strained.

But Radiohead should stop touring.

Ah, sh*t.

The recent death of Scott Johnson, a beloved member of their stage crew, before a scheduled Radiohead concert in Toronto was, of course, a horrible accident, caused by an unlikely stage collapse. But it has highlighted the band’s more ordinary difficulties — and even fundamental disagreements — with the mechanics of live performance.

Usually you have to wait until the end of Slate article before you want to slap the internet in the face, but with this one, it’s in the second paragraph. Ben Johnson mentions Scott Johnson not because he feels Radiohead should retire from touring out of respect for his passing, which would be dumb, but because they’re so bored with touring that it was their fault. I think? Scott is never mentioned again, so it’s tough to guess what the hell the point of mentioning him was, other than Slate needed a very loose “peg,” but the next paragraph seems to support the “Radiohead killed Scott” angle.

As much as fans, including yours truly, have loved seeing Radiohead…the band itself doesn’t seem to enjoy it much. Anybody who has seen the alienating OK Computer tour documentary Meeting People is Easy, or heard lead singer Thom York talk about how it almost destroyed the band, knows this.

IT IS KNOWN. But what does that have to do with Scott?

Jetting around the globe doesn’t fit in with the band’s politics, either: It’s one of the worst things you can do if you’re concerned about climate change.

Future Slate article: “Radiohead Should Stop Making Music and Touring the World and Instead Find a Better, Cheaper Fuel Source.” But, again, what does that have to do with Scott?

Even putting aside the band’s apparent distaste for an endless litany of disinfected hotel rooms and their sincere efforts to tread lightly on a planet they’re worried we’re destroying, there is a more touchy argument for quitting: Their live performances are starting to slip. And it’s not really the band’s fault—it’s a consequence of their continual evolution as musicians.

Oh, so you used Scott Johnson’s death as a way of proving your opinion? That’s not distasteful at all. Also, nice try at saving your ass with the “continual evolution” bit. It’s definitely NOT the band’s fault that they’re getting better as musicians. It’s probably Scott’s.

From the alternative rock of The Bends sprang the post-rock soundscapes of OK Computer; from there, the electronic explorations of Kid A and the mixed-meter B-side rabbit-hole Amnesiac. Hail to the Thief’s jagged sequence veered from beat-heavy panic attacks to dirge-y jazz. But at some level, all of those records rocked. In Rainbows and King of Limbs, on the other hand, while excellent pieces of work, are headphone albums, recordings of beautiful and challenging music that even a Sigur Rós fan might prefer to enjoy in the comfort of his or her own home. This stuff is for your record player.

First off, if you don’t think In Rainbows “rocked,” you clearly haven’t listened to “Jigsaw Falling Into Piece,” which is better and “rocks more” than anything on Hail to the Thief. But more to the point: a band shouldn’t be penalized for expanding their sound, which is the point Johnson’s trying to make. “RADIOHEAD, PLAY SONGS LIKE “CREEP” AND ONLY LIKE “CREEP” UNTIL THE END OF TIME. SONGS LIKE “CREEP” SOUND GOOD IN SPORTING ARENAS.” This article also never mentions that a majority of a band’s revenue comes from concert tickets and merchandise, which means that Radiohead wouldn’t be able to do another In Rainbows pay-as-you’d-like release. There would be too much of a financial risk.

Last week, I wrote an article that played the “when should these bands have retired” game, but it was exactly that: a game. I may not agree with the artistic decisions Weezer have made since Maladroit, but I wouldn’t actually demand for them to retire, and then use a stagehand’s death to prove that said demand should happen.

It’s also worth noting that Radiohead’s live shows are great.

Radiohead has done more than enough. They have made their mark and then some. We should all let them go home.

WHAT??? Are fans locking Thom in a basement somewhere, forcing him to continually write new songs or else he won’t get any fish heads to eat tonight? To the fans that are doing that, I wave my pointer finger in your general direction. But I wave a different finger at Slate for publishing this piece.

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