I suppose we could've seen it coming: Radiohead's track record for DC shows isn't good (two Bull Run Park shows canceled due to flooding; Tibetan Freedom Concert stop postponed by lightning). Still, when thousands of fans spent hours idling in the flooded backroads of Bristow on their way to Nissan Pavilion Sunday, only to be turned away once they reached the parking lot, it was a surprise.
I fell in the camp of those lucky enough to have merely arrived late and left early, trying to enjoy the rain-soaked, freezing set as much as possible. Maybe everyone should've left home earlier (it took me three hours to get there - and, remember, I was one of the fortunate ones); maybe we should've worn ponchos and rainboots; maybe we shouldn't have gone at all...but when faced with only mild precipitation earlier in the day, and with "RAIN OR SHINE" prominently printed on our tickets, how were we not going to see one of the biggest and best bands in the world?
I should probably back up. In February, when Radiohead announced their first proper tour in five years, many of us in the Mid-Atlantic - On Tape included - expressed dismay at their choice of venue, especially given the band's emphasis on making this a "green" tour. Located in the middle of nowhere, there is no public transportation to Nissan Pavilion (for eco-concious city-dwellers, this meant carpooling in rented vehicles).
It's admirable for an act as huge as Radiohead to try and do what they can, environmentally, given the constraints on venues big enough to accommodate them. And, I suppose, I don't expect them to know the lay of the land in each city they play. But, as others have suggested, why not play again at RFK Stadium, which seats double that of Nissan, and is conveniently located in the middle of the District - where attendees could walk, bike, take the train or bus, etc - likely reducing both carbon footprints and congestion caused by flooding?
I'd heard some folks' warnings ("I won't ever go to Nissan Pavilion again, even for Radiohead") of the nightmarish traffic and general operations at the venue, but...this was Radiohead! Worth anything, right? Well, kind of, but this show should've been canceled. The Pavilion has been around for a long time; they should know how to deal with weather, and they clearly didn't. Add this to the fact that parking there is horrible under ordinary circumstances (the previous day's traffic for Kanye West was slow - though, obviously, nothing compared to this...but more on that tomorrow), and ticket holders were in store for a night of huge disappointment.
From what I did see, though, the band sure sounded great. And what could they really do? Thom Yorke & Co. seemed eager to try and please those who did make it, with a career-spanning, two-encore set, even busting out the rumored-to-be-retired "Fake Plastic Trees," dedicating it those who couldn't get in to the show. It killed me to miss the Kid A-era "National Anthem" (during which, apparently, frontman Thom Yorke shouted "Barack Obama!") and "Idioteque," which I only heard while running for the 15-20 minutes between the car and the stage. But getting to be there for classics "Paranoid Android" (before which Yorke apologized to the crowd) and "Just" was a treat - even if, due to weather, I assume, the screens on either side of the stage weren't on, leaving most of the audience with only a distant view of any onstage antics.
While petitions demanding refunds circulate, the band seems keenly aware of their ongoing misfortune in Washington (that's guitarist Jonny Greenwood up top, post-show): "There must be some kind of Biblical fix between us and DC. Frogs next time?" asks bassist Colin Greenwood on their site. Let's hope "next time" is someplace else...