I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings EP
The bright lights flashed in unison like cheap aluminum UFOs in a starless sky. My eyes convulsed in time with the massive flashes of white, but I didn’t really mind. Somehow, Franky and I had made it to that sacred place where the lights are far too bright and the sound is far too loud. The excitement was palpable. Though the vast majority of the 10,000 or so people present was directly behind me, and well outside of my field of view, I could sense the size and excitement of the crowd around me. I turned to Franky, who stared in rapt attention at the stage, absolutely silent.
Finally, the moment arrived. These five beings graced the stage like the gods of old descending from Olympus, illuminated by the fiery rays of Helios’ chariot. The scene was as heavenly and beautiful as Jesus and Buddha playing handball on Jerry Garcia’s assflab. The crowd’s response was as loud and forceful as a tidal wave of live kittens. Yet, Franky remained silent. Finally, as the band prepared for their first song, he turned his head to me, his brown eyes shiny and round like a sheep turd soaked in glitter. Surely, he was aware that this was the single most magical moment of his life ever. Staring awestruck at the massive crowd behind my head, Franky opened his mouth slightly, prepared to speak. And the words he spoke, which seemed to flow straight from his soul like a leaky thermos of godly ambrosia, have remained with me to this day:
“Thom Yorke just got 10,000 people to pay $60 to stare at his ugly ass.”
Sure enough, the audience seemed to be positively transfixed by the image of Yorke, his lazy eye dragging two or three centimeters behind him, twitching and wailing. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to equate the show to Radiohead’s music itself– big rock laced with intrigue, fragility, and ugliness. On I Might Be Wrong, a good deal of the essence of Radiohead’s live show is distilled onto an eight-track EP. And while some moments are absolutely stellar, I Might Be Wrong is only a shadow of what a Radiohead live album could have been.
Like most Radiohead shows, I Might Be Wrong opens with “The National Anthem.” The song’s introduction, with Thom Yorke breathing in staccato over Colin Greenwood’s thunderous bassline and Jonny Greenwood’s skillful manipulation of the primitive Ondes-Martenot, is absolutely wonderful. Without a horn section, though, the song never really develops as it does on Kid A, trailing off without a satisfying conclusion.
“The National Anthem” is followed by “I Might Be Wrong,” a song that wouldn’t be even remotely interesting in its live incarnation if not for the subtle shifts in dynamics that grace the middle and end of the song. “Morning Bell,” like “The National Anthem,” builds to a meandering ending. But it meanders with enough grace to keep it interesting, with Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood working their trademark magic with effects-laden guitars and synthesizers.
With “Like Spinning Plates,” I Might Be Wrong hits its stride. Recasting the song as a piano ballad with eerie synthesized strings, Radiohead turned one of Amnesiac’s most cryptically brilliant tracks into something much more emotional and accessible without being at all sappy or manipulative. With this new version, the song’s melody– complete with the eerily, vaudevillian quality that inhabits it during the chorus– takes center stage, showcasing Radiohead’s songwriting virtuosity rather than their sonic adventurousness.
“Like Spinning Plates” is followed by “Idioteque” and “Everything in its Right Place,” possibly the two finest tracks from Kid A, and certainly one of the better sections of this EP. The former succeeds in capturing the energy Yorke channels during live interpretations of the song, whereas the latter takes the aural experimentation of the album version one step further, with sublime digital manipulations building electronic tapestries of sound.
After the schizophrenic meltdown of “Idioteque” and the catharsis of “Everything in Its Right Place,” an entirely unexceptional version of “Dollars and Cents” is more than a little bit of a letdown, as it lacks both momentum and innovation. But “Dollars and Cents” is followed by I Might Be Wrong’s main attraction, the previously unreleased “True Love Waits.” An acoustic outtake from the OK Computer era, “True Love Waits” is absolutely gorgeous. With signature unexpected chord changes and a melody that both aches and soothes, “True Love Waits” can hold its own against any song on OK Computer, and makes a very welcome ending to I Might Be Wrong.
But while tracks like “Like Spinning Plates” and “True Love Waits” certainly justify the existence of I Might Be Wrong, the EP seems purposely limited in a way that’s immensely frustrating. At only eight songs, the disc is being sold and marketed (and priced) as a full-length album. Given the fact that so many shows were recorded in preparation for this EP, there’s absolutely no reason that I Might Be Wrong should have been limited to eight tracks. Similarly frustrating is the fact that every single track here, aside from “True Love Waits,” is taken from either Kid A or Amnesiac. The inclusion of a live version of “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Karma Police,” or “Just” would have rounded off the record nicely. Sadly, one can’t shake the feeling that this disc exists largely as a promotional item for Radiohead’s last two albums.
The quality of the recordings and performances on I Might Be Wrong is certainly top-notch. But Internet bootlegs– most notably a soundboard recording from Nijmegen, a small city in Holland– present a better, more complete picture of the Radiohead live experience. Still, even with better live documents available for free, it’s hard to resist an officially sanctioned live EP with a few absolutely stellar tracks. And although I Might Be Wrong is obnoxiously incomplete, the fact remains that Thom Yorke just got 100,000 people to spend $17.99 for eight songs. Good for him.
-Matt LeMay, December 18th, 2001