On Saturday, Jan. 25, Rochester’s Strausenberg Planeterium held a Radiohead light show.
The phrase “Radiohead light show” is sure to evoke two starkly different reactions. For most people, a Radiohead light show promises an audiovisual journey of epic proportions. This makes perfect sense, as there’s no reason why the union of bright lights and loud music should make anything but a wholly positive impact on the community.
Of course, with a Radiohead light show come Radiohead fans, an overly cerebral bunch with an innate resistance to anything inherently fun, even when it stares them directly in the face. As one of these individuals, I attempt with this review to strike some sort of compromise between the Radiohead fan’s perspective and the point of view of every other normal, healthy person on the planet.
As a means of entertaining, the one-hour set of songs and lights was precisely the all-encompassing experience it should have been. As the seats tilted back and the melancholy guitar chords to “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” began, reality melted. The contrast of the soft, ambient lighting in the background against the sharp, cutting designs in the foreground made for a stimulating visual experience. The track list, which drew from Radiohead’s entire catalog, did a respectable job of capturing Radiohead’s multifaceted sound without sacrificing flow. The planetarium itself was modern and clean. The sound system provided ample bass frequencies but wasn’t too muddy, too harsh or too loud.
Now, any true Radiohead fan knows that “Street Spirit” is about accepting man’s futility under the inevitable wrath of the devil – whether or not lasers should accompany such despair is open for interpretation. In general though, the bright lights offered a depiction of Radiohead that never quite did justice to the music’s depth. Take the cartoonish sad-face that mouthed the infamous chorus to “Creep”, which felt more like a misguided caricature of the song than anything else. Admittedly, with the exception of “Creep”, the majority of the lights were innocuous designs and shapes. Still, the clarity and definition of the lasers failed to capture Radiohead’s angular and jagged sound.
Light shows, by nature, are necessary but cheap thrills, spectacles designed to remove the paying customer from reality. Radiohead, on the other hand, is about looking reality straight in the eye and acknowledging its terrifying presence. In this sense, Radiohead and laser light shows aren’t meant to coexist, and this is through no fault of Radiohead or the Strasenburgh Planeterium. Perhaps Thom Yorke’s line from the song “Reckoner”, included in the show, can put the contradiction to rest: “You are not to blame for bittersweet distractors.”
Howard is a member of
the class of 2017.