Congratulations! You are about to read the results of the first ever Live Fix Concert Experiment: “Radiohead With No Eyes.” You can read more about the Experiment here. In short, during Radiohead’s 2008 Lollapalooza on August 1st, I conducted a sensory experiment involving the removal of my eyes.
Whether you were at the show, have seen Radiohead before or not, what follows will certainly be a fine read and an intriguing adventure of mixing live music and the 5 senses. You’re also welcome to read a full review of the show that will run on an upcoming edition of Popmatters.
The components of the experiment are presented in a five part Live Fix style:
To determine if removing my eyes from the sensory experience or Perceptual Process of a live Radiohead concert will have any impact on my level of enjoyment or overall pleasure. I do believe it will but I am curious as to how much of a degree the removal and then the reapplication of the visual impact of Radiohead’s LED light show and Lollapalooza’s sellout crowd will have on the other senses.
Blindfold myself during the first half of the show and document the sensory experience on site during the concert and then compare it to the second half of the show without the blindfold.
A good friend who is a musician has been raving about Radiohead, esecially their live show, ever since the release of their Pablo Honey album.
Repeated listens of all Radiohead albums(no live recordings),including research on their LED stage light set up.
Leading up to the show, Bloc Party and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks rocked as well among others while the heat and humidity and sell out crowd contributed as key factors and had crucial impacts.
Now, the “No Eyes Experiment” took a very interesting and unexpected turn right from the start, forcing me to make an immediate and on-the-spot adjustment. Basically, my internal senses (link) had their way with me. While standing among a swelling throng of hot sweating Radioheaders in the middle portion of the crowd, just as I was about to begin the Experiment and put the blindfold on, I had a feeling similar to my unfortunate and terrifying Wilco experience (link) that I mentioned previously on Live Fix.
Using my better judgment, I responded to my internal senses of hunger which flash red via accelerated and overwhelming dizziness and lightheadedness. I pushed through the densely packed crowd to get food and drink and then sat down on a hill with a good view of the stage and crowd, to recoup.
I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to conduct the experiment in the way that I had promised but like other experimenters, sometimes the unexpected can bring new perspectives and led to greater insight and in this case it sure did.
I have a new respect for the inner senses. The last few months I have been so focused on the external senses, which is fine. But I should have seen the writing on the wall (or in the book) when I was reading a children’s book a few days prior, about the overall sensory impact of internal senses, ironically, hunger and thirst.
I knew that this was a chance to embrace the unexpected and experience an unforeseen and possibly enlightening perspective. Yes, I wanted to rock among the masses at Lollapalooza during Radiohead but it didn’t turn out that way, necessarily. Even though Radiohead began as I was getting recouped, I still, though, found a way to conduct the Experiment as I didn’t want my body stopping me from delivering the goods to you dear Live Exhauster.
So with a good view of the stage from the hill and the booming music surrounding me and 75,000 fans swarming all around me, I slipped on my blindfold and carried on with the experiment. I was more than satisfied with what I discovered. And like other experimenters who get thrown a curve in the lab, I was able to encounter a perspective that I wouldn’t had had I not gone through the near fainting experience which in hindsight probably added a bit of pleasurable anxiety, adding even more enjoyment to the show.
I likened it to the way I feel when I watch a horror movie. I hate to be scared and usually when anything surprises me or I freak out. So prior to putting on the blindfold I also noted a huge rush of pleasurable anxiety, on top of the building of usual pre-show excitement.
So up on the hill, with the blindfold on, I listened with rapt attention and anticipation as the concert unfolded.
At first I immediately noticed I had a huge jump in heightened awareness to what was going on around me. The crowd roar swelled, along with the surge of every noise was intensified, something I haven’t noticed in this way before. For a moment, I didn’t care that I couldn’t see; I was really enjoying the fact that I had only my ears to guide me. I began experiencing a surge of imagination that was a combination of what I had seen before I put the blindfold on and what my imagination was creating with just an audio channel turned on. And it was awesome.
The sensation was similar to sitting at home and listening with headphones on but it was far more advance as far as the pleasure factors goes, and this was due in large part to the other senses kicking in. I felt the breeze blowing across my face and I felt the rumbling of the speakers a few hundred feet away. I also could still taste the juicy hamburger and lemony fruit drink still on my lips and tongue. Then the element of anticipation escalated.
Tom Yorke led the band into tracks from Kid A, an album that I have always had a hard time getting into. But as Radiohead went through those tracks became clearer to me and more pleasurable as the melody of Yorke’s larky croon went to a deeper level within my ears. Maybe it was because I was in an open and welcoming state and ready to take in the music but then I took off my blindfold and the show went to new heights of pleasure and captivation.
Of course, the first thing I noticed was the gigantic LED multi-colored light towers flashing against and with the melodies, along with the side screens separated into tiny squares of sepia-washed psychedelia featuring each band member gyrating and moving to the music. It was spectacular and so pronounced that I wanted to put the blindfold back on just so I could be wowed again and again, going from darkness to the spectacle, a fantastic kaleidoscope of reds, blues, greens and yellows, twisting and crunching with every guitar chord and lyric bend and swift change of tempo.
This “pop of wow” was the highlight, along with the fireworks blasting overhead during “Everything in its Right Place,” making the Experiment rich with other moments of discovery that I haven’t fully fleshed out yet, but I will certainly share with you on a later post.
The obvious and expected finding is that the eyes are a huge sensual component to the live show. I just didn’t expect the massive intensity that I experienced. Radiohead is an extreme example, as I imagine other groups with a similar dazzling light shows are equally mesmerizing, but I should note that Radiohead is really, really good at blending the light show with the music. The lights and the music are one, and I don’t think that would have been so apparent or enjoyed nearly as much had I not blindfolded myself.
Removing the eyes from the live show experience for a moment also showed me that, yes, the other senses do kick in. I found it very fascinating how well the other senses did kick in and how fast they picked up the slack when the eyes left the sensory picture.
I also found it hard to initially trust primarily my ears to guide me, but once I did, that’s when my imagination kicked in and took the sensory reign. But I fought it momentarily. Then once I gave in during “House of Cards,” I came into a state of welcomed sonic euphoria and smiled while actually considering leaving the blindfold on for the rest of the show.
But my commitment to you, forced me to take the blindfold off.
I also found that my friend who is hearing-impaired probably does experience live music in a completely different way than I do, trusting her other senses (internal and external) in ways I don’t even consider as mine are all intact.
And it’s on this very sensory linchpin that addictively annoying design shows like Clean House and Extreme Makeover make such a huge impact on the viewer as each show has a crucial “Take off your blindfolds!” or “Move that Bus!” moment where what the subject is used to seeing has been dramatically transformed , and now before them lies an amazing revelatory contrast to the image that was formerly in their minds. You can rag on me later, but I use these shows as examples because it’s the eye’s role and direct impact on the emotions that makes the shows so powerful (and annoyingly additive) to everyone at home, behind the bus and the blindfold.
And finally, in lieu of the pre-show fainting, I now have a better understanding of how crucial the relationship between the external and internal senses is. One depends on the other and in my case, had I not listened to my internal senses, my external senses would have shut down. I also decided that we’ll go in deeper with the impact of the internal senses here at LE once we get through the external ones.
Radiohead’s live show has jumped into the top slot as favorite shows of the year and one of the best live experiences I’ve had in awhile, if not ever when it comes to seeing a band for the first time. Seeing them in an outdoor setting was fantastic, but now I want to see them in an auditorium venue and really “see” all the colors of the sonically righteous rainbow.
Any suggestions for the next experiment? Drop a comment and let me know.
Now, scroll back up, click on the YouTube video, close your eyes and tell me what you “see”.