Breakfast in the hostel and I feel like a different person from last night. I meet my friend from Mexico City, Jennifer, and tell her so. She agrees. We geek out. We talk about all the songs they played and even more importantly, what songs they didn’t. We notice a few gaps in albums — zero songs from Amnesiac or The Bends, and very little from Hail to the Thief, so we can expect more songs tonight from those albums. We hope.
I have a whole day before the show tonight so I should fill it with Montrealian things, I suppose. I think i’m outsmarting the weather by getting up to go to Mont Royal early before it gets hot. LOL. It’s supposed to rain and it’s so humid my face is dripping by 10 am. I decide not to go up Mont Royal. Instead I go to MAC, the modern art museum. I was so excited to see the Leonard Cohen exhibit listed on the website as running through 12/04/18. I was not excited to discover Canadians write their days first and that the exhibit is now closed. Fuck.
I go to the museum anyway. It’s pretty freaking weird and cool. I take pictures. I hear a guy next to me talk to someone about one of the pieces. I notice he’s talking about it like it’s his own. It’s his own. Hi, random internationally-renown dude with your name on the wall! Looks like your name is Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and you’re standing right by me. Congratulations on having your own exhibit here! This is cool and you are cool and I am cool and Montreal is cool AF and literally so in the winter but figuratively so in the summer.
The most intriguing piece in the MAC is a recurring theme in the artist’s work: about the theory that everything that has ever been said is still lingering in the air, it’s just humans can’t hear it anymore. I have a song, Old Stories Go, that talks about this:
I’m in the laboratory, balanced on a chair
Trying hard to measure the vibrations in the air
Where old stories go when we speak them
We catch fireflies in jars and poke holes in the lid
To study and demystify the source of light within
But where do stories go if we don’t catch them?
My most favorite thing about this guy’s installation, and also the most disturbing, is that the artist had engraved a passage from this theory onto microscopic pieces of gold, like itty bitty gold particles only atoms wide, and the museum released those itty bitty pieces into the air vents. You literally breathed in his work. The exhibit says it’s harmless. I believe it and I also freak out a bit. The feeling of gold particles with messages in my lungs is profound and also very WTF.
I exit to breathe non-gilded air and realize I am near where Leonard Cohen lives. There are murals EVERYWHERE. One is of him. You gotta click on this link to see more pictures and swipe away on Instagram:
I eat his favorite smoked meat sandwich at Main Deli. I go to Bagels Etc. where he writes about being able to see the waitresses’ behinds in the mirrors. Across the street is his house and a teensy tiny park. I like this neighborhood a lot. It randomly occurs to me: “Suzanne, I’m your man” is not only a Weezer lyric, it’s also two Leonard Cohen song titles together.
But… there’s something about Leonard Cohen that keeps me from idol worshipping. Damn near every single time he writes about a woman, it’s 100% sexualized. Even when it’s supposed to be platonic it’s still sexualized. Even Sisters of Mercy, for Chrissakes! I can’t shake this notion of this brilliant poet-slash-ladies-man not really seeing women as women but as meat sacks containing sex to be had, and it being a notable event when there isn’t sex to be had. I’ve been reading his poetry in a small little book I carry with me and there’s no doubt it’s brilliant in its own right but I just can’t get past this. I’ve got more to say about that but I’m only half here for Leonard Cohen. The other half, the more alive half, is here for Radiohead.
I head to the metro and I’m tired and sweaty and am counting down the hours and minutes to the Radiohead show except OH GOD THERE’S ANOTHER OUTDOOR PIANO and I have to stop everything. This one has quite a few non-working keys on it. I plunk out what I can for as long as I can before I give up and get back on the Metro to the hostel.
My new friend Jennifer is the only other person at the hostel who has tickets for both nights. Other hostellers are surprised we got both nights. Why would we want to do that, they ask. Because Radiohead have such a massive catalog that you can expect a different setlist each night is why. I know this from personal experience.
The hostel is right around the corner from the venue, not even a 10-minute walk. Jennifer is not quite ready to go but I want to see the opening band tonight. Barely missed it last night but they sounded really interesting. It’s called Junun and it has Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood in it. It’s like Sufi qawwali music but with some added guitar and electronic elements. Did I tell you how much I am inspired by the Sufis? The great Sufi poet Rumi is the reason I am @ Little Spiral @. He talks about “the place where everything is music” and it’s here. The spiral shape reminds me of the whirling dervish which is the reason I chose it. I should tell you that whole story later. But yeah, Sufi music. Jeff Buckley was inspired by qawwali, and Jeff Buckley inspired Thom Yorke so that makes some odd sense. I have a feeling Radiohead are on tour purely to promote Junun, as Radiohead have no album to promote but Junun went on Colbert and it’s Jonny’s passion project and I think they want us all to think about “world music” as not a separate category of the record store you never visit and I love this little conspiracy theory I just made up.
The second night launches. As I knew was going to happen, it’s a 90% different setlist. I’ve uploaded clips here. They play my favorites. They play songs I didn’t even know I needed to hear. How to Disappear Completely makes me openly weep. And Reckoner. Kid A is PHENOMENAL live. I never cared for Bloom on the recording but to hear his soaring voice in that stadium sends chills up my spine.
Short story time: Last time I saw Radiohead was 2006. They too played two nights, different setlists. It was supposedly a Hail to the Thief tour, and the big song from Hail to the Thief was There There. I waited and waited and waited for them to play that song. I figured they must play the one freaking single from that album. They never do. They play it the next night instead. That’s the real story of why I went to both nights. And they played There There tonight. There are 6 members of the band. Two drummers normally. On this song there are no less than four people onstage playing the drums. Colin’s holding down the bass, Thom is singing and guitaring it up, and everyone else is hitting things with sticks. It’s fucking magic and it scratches a 12-year itch for me.
I have another short story, if you’ll bear with me: Last year was tough. I was not doing well. I was struggling with a depressive episode that had no end in sight. I’m fortunate in that my depressive episodes usually have an end and I can just tell myself it too shall pass. Last year was not one of those times. Last year was also when my love affair wtih Radiohead was rekindled (thanks live Coachella feed). Perhaps I was seeking a distraction. Perhaps I was seeking meaning. No matter the reason, I couldn’t listen to anything else but Radiohead for months. I was giving albums I normally didn’t listen to a try. One of those albums was The King of Limbs. On it is a song that never really gets love or mentions on the Facebook fan forums I frequent. It’s called Give Up the Ghost. It’s dark. It’s depressing. I would not recommend listening to it if you’re suicidal, because you just might go through with it. But to me it was also comforting. I had it on repeat, when I couldn’t get out of bed. I had it on repeat, when all I could do was sleep. I had it on repeat one night when the full moon was shining brightly into my window and I thought I had my fill and I thought I should just give up. Not life, but everything I was doing. This song was my companion in complete surrender and resignation. The song meant a lot to me. It’s not their most popular song. It’s a song a lot of fans forget about. But tonight, they played it as an encore. I can’t tell you how much it meant to hear a song that means so much that I was not expecting at all and then there it is, live, resonant in your ears and in the stadium you inhabit with your musical heroes.
I’m crying typing about it.
Day 2 was better than Day 1 and I didn’t think it was possible. I’m afraid I might need to get a new passport to get home because I’m really, truly not the same person now.