This is the sad and sorry tale of what happens when you take obsession and anticipation much too far.
When I first saw Radiohead live in Sydney in early 1998, I was so euphoric I could barely breathe, and declared I’d happily sell my mother to see them again. Finally six months ago I got tickets for their Glasgow show. Since then the anticipation quietly simmered, then hotted up to a mighty boil, until last Sunday morning the day finally arrived. I woke up so wired I only manage a gleeful squeak, “CONCERT!”
After a hectic day, we were standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus to take us to another bus that would take us to Glasgow. After fifteen minutes of anxious hopping around, I studied the timetable again and realised I’d looked at the wrong route. This left us ten minutes to get to the Glasgow bus. Arrgh!
We ran down the road in search of a taxi, bodies screaming in protest at such unexpected exertion. Finally a bus came by, and an excruciating ten minutes later later we were running down Princes Street, just like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, except without heroin to make us speedier.
Then we couldn’t find the fucking Glasgow bus. Cue third sprint session and breathless cursing. By the time we found it and left Edinburgh, it was almost 6pm.
I was edgy. The M8 was an endless stretch of roadworks and the traffic shuffled like an arthritic pensioner. The road signs taunted me with their lack of metric-ness.
SHAUNA: Hey. What’s 35 times 1.6?
SHAUNA: Jane! Ask Rory what’s 35 times 1.6?
JANE: Rory, what’s 35 times 1.6?
RORY: Hold on…
G: No wait, 56.
R: Actually it’s 56.
S: 56 kilometres to go! That’s AGES!
It was 7.30 PM when the bus plodded into Glasgow. I was clawing the armrests in frustration.
“We’re going to get a CRAP spot. The doors opened half an hour ago.”
“There’ll be plenty of spots!”
“The hardcore people camp overnight, you know.”
“You’re in Scotland now! Everyone will still be at the bar.”
“No! You don’t understand Radiohead fans!” I shrilled. “They’re GEEKY and OBSESSIVE!”
Finally inside the SECC, I got my shoving elbows ready and prepared to burrow as close to the stage as possible. And it was true, there were still a lot of people at the bar. When support act Asian Dub Foundation began, we’d scored a reasonably central spot, wriggling closer after every song. ADF were great, but I was distracted a vision of loveliness lurking at the side of the stage. Behold! It was Ed! Ed O’Brien! Ed O’Brien from Radiohead!
Long-term WNP readers will remember the enduring obsession with Ed. It had been almost six years since I’d seen him in the flesh, and he had aged gracefully (except for needing a haircut). He busied himself with various percussion instruments throughout the ADF set, dancing and singing along in his long and luscious way.
What a guy. I noted a faint rumbling in my stomach, a weakness in my limbs. I put it down to the rush of hormones.
Soon ADF were done and the crowd closed in. We pushed forward, our view of the stage increasingly cluttered by tall skinny folk in black t-shirts. Then two tall skinny chicks beside me lit up cigarettes. I felt my stomach backflip as the smoke curled around me.
All at once the over-excitement and lack of food and water hit me. Things were getting woozy. I closed my eyes for a quick nap. Then I remember turning round to ask how much longer until Radiohead would start, but my voice sounded distorted and I couldn’t hear properly.
“I think there’s a mosquito buzzing round inside my ear,” I frowned.
There were great murky blobs across my vision and the crowd melted into a blur of spaghetti limbs. I closed my eyes. I dreamed that I was falling, on a jaunty angle of approximately 45 degrees. Back in the real world, eyewitnesses reported my face drained of colour and my lips turned white, then I stumbled in drunken fashion, smacking into the two smoking chicks.
Next thing I knew Gareth was dragging me out of the crowd.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re going to First Aid!”
“Nooooooooooo! We’ve got a good spot!”
I turned around to sneak back in, but then realised I couldn’t see. I was cranky and confused as a First Aid guy sat me down. It wasn’t until I gulped some water that my vision cleared and I realised what had happened. I had fainted at the Radiohead gig. Goddammit!
“Are you on any medication, miss?”
“Do you have any medical problems?”
“Have you passed out at gigs before?”
“Noooooo! I’ve been to MILLIONS of gigs!”
“What did you eat and drink today?”
“Vegemite toast and two cups of tea!”
“Ah ha. Dehydration for sure.”
I was just contemplating escape when another First Aid dude approached with a clip board.
“Oh nooooo, you can’t write this down.”
“It’s just for our records.”
What a blow to ones credibility! I’d spent all day crowing about what a fucking rock veteran I was; speculating on the setlist, demonstrating shoulder-barge techniques to secure the best spot. In the past I’d sniggered at those skanky chicks being hauled from the mosh pit, their bodies limp and useless. “Amateurs!” I’d scoff, “Can’t hack the pace! G’wan, get outta here!”. But now here I was, pasty-faced and pathetic, sipping water from a paper cup.
Suddenly the lights went down and crowd screamed. I tried to stand up. “Come on!”
“Just sit for a minute and relax!”
“You don’t understand. It’s my favourite band!”
“Just five minutes.”
The drums were calling me; low and rumbling, signalling the start of ‘There There’. The First Aid dude handed me a couple of glucose tablets and I shoved them into my mouth, like Popeye with his can of spinach, crunching and spluttering and getting to my feet.
“I’m going in!”
We’d lost out centre spot, but our new perch on the Ed-board side offered a perfect sweeping view of the stage. Best of all there was room to breathe. By the time the boys barrelled into ‘2+2=5’, I was BACK, baby! Sugar surged through my veins and I jumped and screamed like a madwoman.
The boys were on fire, I tells ya. In 1998 they were intense and spectacular, but the crowd was strangely still, as if overwhelmed. The band in turn seemed overwhelmed and weary, but then again they’d spend the last year with the world humping their collective legs in ecstasy after the release of OK Computer. That’d be tough on anyone. But now they were comfortable in their skin. Thom actually smiled and cracked jokes now. The music was more ferocious and physical than last time, they just plain rocked!
The crowd soaked up their energy. The old hits got the drunks singing and snogging and slopping paper cups of Carling. But it was the new songs that really grabbed you by the guts. Take a song like ‘Myxomatosis’, so irritating on the album that I wanted to clobber the stereo with a brick. But live it was raw and menacing, you could feel the guitars buzzing right through your chest. Woooooo!
Oh I was doing so well, riding high on life and traces of Hovis Big ‘n’ Bouncy White Sliced Loaf. But when Thom wobbled his way into ‘Idioteque’, my stomach started wobbling too. Just five more minutes, I urged my innards, This song is so good live, please hold on. But soon I was clopping around the perimeter of the venue with my hands clutched to my stomach, looking for the loo.
I made it back in time for the encores. ‘How To Disappear Completely’ was so lush it made your bones ache. ‘Karma Police’ was marred only by cheesy twats with cigarette lighters.
The final song was ‘Everything In Its Right Place’. I could have made it, but everything in my stomach was in its wrong place. I bolted out again, hand clamped over mouth. I spent the last moments of the show perched over the loo, alternately swearing and gagging. I’d missed my boys leaving the stage. I could have cried!
But what a way to make a gig memorable! On the way back to Edinburgh we pondered where it all went wrong. There is the scientific view that one cannot live on tea and toast and adrenaline alone. Even when said toast is slathered in the nutritional goodness of Vegemite. But let’s not rule out that Ed O’Brien was possibly so saucy that he could cause me to squeal and swoon like a boufantted Beatlemaniac.
photo: rory associated press.
author’s lifeless body: not pictured.