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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Radiohead as a religious experience

Sometimes, a concert experience transcends the normal boundaries of just enjoying music or having a good time. Rather, it speaks to you, creating something of a cathartic, pseudo-religious experience.

This past Friday night, I went to go see Volcano Choir at the Orpheum. Volcano Choir is the current band for Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

The thing about Bon Iver was that they almost never tour, and when they did, by virtue of their immense popularity, their decision to play mostly smaller theaters and the intimacy of their music, seeing Bon Iver was a virtual impossibility for my friend.

She described seeing Vernon, in Bon Iver or otherwise, as something of a spiritual or religious experience for her.

This idea got me thinking: Have I ever been so moved by a concert that I achieved this sort of pseudo-religious experience from the performance?

Immediately, one instance came to mind.

The fateful night was Sept. 28, 2011. A month into my senior year of high school, confronted with the concept of leaving home and going off to school, coupled with what ended up being a highly personal family gathering, I went to go see Radiohead for the first time at the Roseland Ballroom.

To give some context for the ballroom, Roseland is the worst venue in New York City.  The stage is about 18 inches off the ground, the floor has no slope to it—giving anyone more than a dozen rows back or under 6 feet 2 inches no chance at seeing—and poor sound to boot.

But one makes exceptions for everything, and when Radiohead announced that they were playing two shows at the venue, which holds a hair more than 3,000 people, I knew that I would be there.

Fast forward to my “arrival” to the venue, and I am confronted with a line.  Now this was no ordinary line, but rather, a monolithic trail that stretched around the entire block (a large block at that) and then some.

After waiting more than 90 minutes on this line, I took three steps into the stage area before I was confronted with a near capacity crowd already. Despite this, I got a call from a friend telling me to meet by the soundboard, and that we were going to meet up with everyone else after.

Being someone who hates conflict of any kind, the idea of pushing through hundreds if not thousands of people to get to their position seemed daunting—but then again, how often does one get to see Radiohead in a tiny club?

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My march through the crowd was painstaking; however, upon my arrival to the group of people I knew, it was instantly worth it.

There I was, 25 feet away from where Thom Yorke would be standing.

By the time the band launched into “Bloom,” the first song of the night, everything else that was going on in my life slowly dissipated as the ethereal intro of the song, coupled with Yorke’s haunting vocals, made it clear that those two hours were bound to be the greatest two hours I would ever experience.

Now, while I have seen hundreds of concerts, and have encountered a similar type of pseudo-religious experiences, this one will always stick out.

To conclude, the next time you go to a concert that really means something to you, don’t try and capture the experience through your shitty phone camera, but rather, soak in the experience as a way of forgetting about whatever may be going on in your life.

Music can be the best catharsis if you drop everything and just let it in, and I found mine that night at a Radiohead show.

Has your favorite band blessed you with divine revelation? Cool. Tell Brian at

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