Title: Encore
Year: 2012
Publication: Rolling Stone

Radiohead at Jisan Valley Rock Festival.

 

Radiohead's Korean Encore


The Koreans pronounce it en-core, like the first syllable of encyclopedia. En-core, en-core, they scream, their voices squeaky though not quite clean. Radiohead have played a 17-song set, featuring a whole side of King of Limbs and a few tracks from every album since 2001's Kid A. An assortment of strange sounds and shifting rhythms. Nothing short of glorious.


The crowd at the Jisan Valley Rock Festival in Icheon are young and pretty. A mixture of tourists and hipsters. They've been treated to a euphoric display and are still buzzing. En-core, en-core. Everyone is hopeful. Even though they all know that this is bollocks.


An encore is a pantomime. Performer pretending to be moved to spontaneity. Audience pretending to be surprised. What originated as an act of gratitude for an appreciative crowd has long become standard practice. Encores are now penned into setlists long before the event.


The 101,000 revelers are a mix of excited visitors and ecstatic locals. There are discussions and glances at clocks on camera-phones. It's 10 to 11. Time for three, maybe four songs. None of which are likely to be Creep.


We're well aware that encores are pre-ordained. But still we enact this parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow ritual. As if an audience is too fragile to be abandoned at short notice. As if a performer has to let them down gently. A post-coital cuddle, followed by one last bang.


We ignore the truth. This is nothing more than a tea break. A change-the-shirt, have-a-wee, smoke-a-cig and come-back-with-the-hits break. That hasn't stopped great singers from milking theatre from it. James Brown would collapse in a pool of sweat, fall to his knees in exhaustion. Then he'd throw off his cape and launch into one last rapturous jam.


Make no mistake. There is magic in the encore. But perhaps not as many surprises as there should be. Tonight at Jisan, the only surprise would be if the band didn't come out again.


The rest of the festival's big names did no last hurrahs. Beady Eye peaked with a 'cover' of Oasis' Morning Glory and stopped two songs later. Elvis Costello ended a seamless set with a sweaty Peace, Love and Understanding sing-a-long. And the Stone Roses ran through their slender catalogue once over, before making way for fireworks.


The other Elvis, a certain Mr Presley, famously never did do encores. Colonel Tom Parker advised the King to leave them wanting more. Ravenous fans would hang around till the houselights came up and a voice on the PA told them to go home. The phrase, "Elvis has left the building" originates from here.


But these days, the audience expects more bang for the buck. To leave without a final goodbye is seen as bad manners.


So what will the greatest live band of our time end up doing? Launch into an extended avant-garde jam of organic electro? Serve up some of those gorgeous MTV anthems of the 90s? Or maybe play us an Elvis Presley cover?


Boston used to do four encores. The Cure have said goodbye-hello five times on auspicious nights. Pearl Jam's encore sometimes outweighs the original set.


Bruce Springsteen, rock'n roll showman extraordinaire, crafts his encores as if he is compiling a new album. There'll be showstoppers from the new album, some hits for the casual fans, and a few obscure treats for the die-hards.


The acts at Jisan Valley have been an eclectic bunch. The Slam Shower segment threw up metal bands of varying degrees of speed and rage. The next day, the Brown Eyed Girls paraded their erotic K-pop clad in cabaret garb, while Ohio indie-dance-rock duo Twenty One Pilots delivered pulsating slices of piano-percussion genius. Some bands do multiple encores. Some disappear without ceremony.


En-core, en-core.


When Thom Yorke appears under blue light babbling beautiful notes from Give up the Ghost, no one knows what to expect. Will it be a quiet goodbye or a frenzied one? In fact, we get both. An 8-song encore. Taking the concert 40 minutes into overtime.


They unveil Exit Music from 1997's majestic OK Computer and follow it with Talk Show Host, their greatest song never to make it to a studio album. The throb of National Anthem gives way to the echo of Planet Telex, the opening track of The Bends, their last mainstream rock album.


And that should've been it. But Thom didn't seem to want to go. No longer the shoe-gazer, no longer suspicious of the spotlight, he flails his limbs and and performs his trademark seizure dance. Has this awkward indie boy grown into the 21st century James Brown? Evidently.


"We'll play a couple more," he says. And we get a verse from REM's The One I Love, followed by the shimmery chords of Everything in its Right Place. And back they come, armed with acoustic guitars and strange gadgets, to take us home with the epic Paranoid Android. Lovely, mind-altering, life-affirming stuff.


Encores. What would we do without them?


 
 
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