After decades of waiting, I finally saw Radiohead in concert, only to realize I had become a character in one of the band's songs.
I had been waiting for the opportunity to catch the band in concert since the 1997 release of "OK Computer." Radiohead has never played Buffalo as a headliner, and though it stops in Toronto and New York City often, the stars never aligned for me. Eventually, the British art-rockers came to occupy the top position on my concert bucket list.
All that changed last week. With my wife, son, and a few dear friends, I made the trek to Toronto for the first of the band's two shows at the Scotia Bank Centre. We scored tickets on the early spring day they went on sale, through a combination of dogged determination and plain old luck. I'd planned my summer vacation around the gig.
However, my digital "tickets" came with a warning that I interpreted as mildly Orwellian: "Ticket purchases for this show are non-transferable. Delivery is restricted to mobile-only, meaning you must use the Ticketmaster Mobile App on your smartphone to get into the event. Barcodes will be delayed on all purchases up to 24 hours prior to the event, at which point they will become available within your Ticketmaster account."
What fresh hell was this? I felt like I'd taken my $400 bucks, stuffed it into a digital bottle, and tossed it into an Ethernet sea, with the pitiful hope that something might actually come back.
Believing as much required faith. That faith turned out to be ill-founded.
According to a thread on Stubhub.community, these digital tickets were meant to become transferable 24 hours prior to the show. However, for our group – we had two extra tickets, amazingly – this didn’t turn out to be the case.
The "transfer" feature on the Ticketmaster app remained disabled, and my friend ended up eating $200-plus worth of non-transferable tickets. This was a serious buzz-kill, one that was underscored when we entered the Scotia Bank Centre to be met by strangely authoritarian security folks who snickered when I asked them which gate the penned-in smoking area was accessible by.
"That's been gone for two years," I was told, dismissively.
No one is going to have sympathy for a smoker, nor should they, really. But combined with the ticket fiasco, the sensation of being trapped in a packed, hot and byzantinely regulated building made me feel like a cockroach in a Kafka story. The beer and bathroom lines did little to alter this feeling. I was beginning to wonder why I'd spent so much money and effort in order to be treated like an insect.
None of this has anything to do with Radiohead, I realize. Like so many artists, the band was simply trying to deal with the highway robbery being routinely perpetrated by secondary seller sites, through more strictly regulated policies. It makes sense, in theory.
The show was positively transcendent. There is no more interesting, challenging, simultaneously exalting and mildly disturbing, deeply musical and visceral rock band than Radiohead. The band more than lived up to all the expectations I'd cultivated in 20 years of lusting after a concert experience with it.
On a purely musical and theatrical level, this was easily one of the two or three greatest of the roughly 3,000 concerts I've attended since my very first, as a barely teen in 1980.
And yet, I felt somehow disconnected from the experience. As if I'd been granted a two-hour leave from a dismal dystopia, with the caveat that said leave was required to be taken within the dystopia itself. I thought of the lyrics to a favorite Radiohead song, "Nude": "Now that you've found it, it's gone/Now that you feel it, you don't."
The concert experience, like the music business, has changed radically and isn’t likely to change back. I get it. But call me old-school if you must – I prefer my live music without a side order of capitalist authoritarianism, thank you very much. That isn't rock 'n' roll to me.