Poster by Joe Mruk
When you think of the most influential bands who rose to prominence in the 90’s, chances are Radiohead is close to the top of that list. And for good reason: their staggering musicality, constant reinvention and experimentation, and consistently strong artistic vision have kept them on the cutting edge for multiple decades. Their most recent release, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” has been rightfully making waves, but 2017 also marks the twentieth anniversary of their landmark third album “OK Computer.” Home to such powerhouse tracks as “Karma Police” and “Paranoid Android,” it’s certainly a record that stands the test of time. For that reason (among others), local band The Ruckus Bros. have recruited some of the best musicians in town to help them pay tribute to it, in its entirety, this coming Saturday, February 25th, at Spirit in Lawrenceville. With accompanying visual effects courtesy of Adam Chizmar at Mind Crime Studios, opening act Talkers covering songs from “Pablo Honey” and “The Bends,” and all show proceeds benefitting Planned Parenthood of Western PA, this is an event you won’t want to miss.
The Ruckus Bros. are in the business of honoring such influential records in full; previous tribute shows have included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” The idea to tackle the dense, atmospheric complexity of Radiohead has been kicking around in bandleader Diego Byrnes’ mind for a few years now. “In October 2013, when The Ruckus Bros. were working on our Thriller tribute at Mr. Smalls, some of the people from Touchfaster, the production company that we were working with, had mentioned how great it would be to do some Radiohead shows,” he says. “I’ve been planning on putting one together ever since.”
In addition to fellow bandmates Mike Minda (also of The Commonheart, on guitar), Anja Wade (acoustic guitar), Anton DeFade (bass), Nicholas Coronado (keys and synth), and Rich Cawood (drums), Byrnes has recruited quite the list of special guest musicians. Josh Verbanets of Meeting of Important People will offer vocals and guitar, while Max Somerville of Wreck Loose will contribute on keys. Vocalists Mariko Reid (of Buffalo Rose), Anastasia Hagermann, and Gene Stovall will round out the talent-packed eleven-piece band.
Several of the musicians have worked together before, while others were new to the experience. Max Somerville’s first collaboration with Byrnes was for another album tribute concert a few years ago: “Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles. “I had never been a part of a full album tribute show before, and I’m not sure if Diego had either. It was a new experience for a lot of us but it felt very relaxed and very comfortable,” Somerville says. “Diego has a way of organizing all types of musicians and artists from different backgrounds. He makes everyone feel like they’re all old friends in rehearsal. He’s just the nicest guy in the whole damn world.”
Mike Minda is no stranger to groups of ten+ musicians performing together, thanks to his stints in both The Commonheart and as part of Randy Baumann’s Ramble, though this is his first project working with Byrnes. “My favorite thing about music is the interaction between other musicians,” he says. “Since this band has never really played together in this arrangement, it’s going to be an awesome new experience for all of us! I look forward to playing music with each and every one of these talented individuals.”
Byrnes and Chizmar have been preparing for a while, but their fellow collaborators got involved more recently. “We’ve had a 2-month rehearsal process, with only 2 full band rehearsals the week of the show,” says Byrnes. “This is a group of total pros, so there haven’t been any big road blocks.” Though, he acknowledges, “[OK Computer] is a very guitar-heavy record, so Anja, Mike, and myself have met a few times to make sure we’re covering everything we can.”
He alludes to an inescapable fact of paying tribute to a band like Radiohead: it’s a bit of a daunting task, particularly when trying to emulate every layer. “I didn’t expect to stumble upon the difficulty of mimicking chaos in an organized fashion,” says Talkers frontman Caleb Pogyor. “When you listen to ‘The Bends,’ there is so much commotion going on with guitars and effects, but they performed and wrote in such a way that the songs sound super tight and crisp.” Anton DeFade agrees, noting, “The dense atmospheric layering and song forms are what will make this a challenging project.”
Minda also feels similarly. “For me, this record is very challenging because the guitar work is so different from my own style. It is very effects-heavy,” he says. “So, while with some albums you just have to learn the notes, on this album I’m working on playing on the parts as well as getting my effects to sound as close to the record as possible. It’s been a unique challenge, but a lot of fun as well.”
Few twenty-year-old records (or thirty-two-year-old bands) can claim such musical relevance and present such persistent challenges today. Yet somehow they’ve packaged this complexity and boundary-pushing in a way that widely appeals. “[Radiohead’s music] is big and anthemic, but also has a lot of moving parts,” says Somerville. “There’s a lot of things to feel in there if you go looking for it, but you can let it wash over you if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Their music really has something for everyone.”
DeFade concurs. “Radiohead is one of those groups that have reached many different types of people,” he says. “They are just really interesting. They write a lot of music with outside of the box harmony and non-traditional forms. On top of that, the way they layer textures is really special.” Regarding this album specifically, Pogyor adds, “Ever since I first heard ‘OK Computer’ back in high school, Radiohead has been my favorite band. They know how to be beautiful, creepy, angelic and melancholic all at the same time. They discovered a sound that allows them to move across different soundscapes, and yet still sound comfortable and familiar to the listener.”
Of course, Byrnes himself lists the band as “one of my favorite groups,” which has made putting this show together as enjoyable as it is demanding. “I’m a guitarist, so digging into this album, and finding all the layers, has been a lot of fun for me,” he says. “It’s like re-opening your toy box from when you were a kid, and finding out that there’s a secret panel at the bottom with more cool secret stuff under it.”
Even if you’re not very well-versed with Radiohead’s work, don’t let that dissuade you from attending; some of the musicians themselves only started exploring after Byrnes’ invitation. “I grew up mostly on stuff from the 60’s and 70’s, so I’m always playing catchup with the 90’s and 2000’s. Radiohead is one of those bands I missed,” says Minda. “After listening to the album the first time, though, I was hooked. The production value is very high and the whole album has a feel that’s very reminiscent of Pink Floyd, which makes it easy for me to get into!” Somerville also admits that he initially had “very little connection with Radiohead,” aside from watching the “Paranoid Android” music video. And that’s perfectly fine with Byrnes. “This is an awesome group of musicians,” he enthuses. “Some of us have grown up with this record, and know it well, and some of us had never heard it before, which I love. It’s great to have that fresh perspective.”
This might be The Ruckus Bros.’ first Radiohead tribute/benefit show, but it won’t be the last. Byrnes let us know that two more are in the works for later this year. “The next show, this summer, will be my favorite Radiohead album, ‘Kid A.’ The third will be ‘In Rainbows’ this fall,” he says. “My goal is to raise $8000 for charity this year with these three shows, so please come out and have a good time!”
As previously noted, the proceeds from this event will be donated to Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, at a time when any and all additional support is particularly needed. “It makes me feel awesome to be a musician playing shows for a good cause,” says Pogyor. Celebrating the legacy of a remarkable band and album, seeing the passion and talent of these exceptional local performers in such a different context, and benefitting a charity, all at the same time, pretty much guarantees that you’ll feel awesome, too. Minda sums it up: “Come ready for an intense production! It’s going to be a great show that Radiohead fans will enjoy, as well as people who don’t even know who Radiohead is! It will definitely be a show not to miss.”
Tickets are $8 ahead of time and $10 at Spirit’s door on Saturday; find the presale link here. Doors open at 8 PM. You can visit the Facebook event page here. And follow along with The Ruckus Bros. here.