Radiohead at Roseland Sweeps – One Man’s Fairy Tale

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KCRW ran a sweepstakes where we gave away tickets to see Radiohead at Roseland Ballroom and one of the winners, Sanjeev Sirpal, flew across the country from LA to be there.  Read his incredible story. A music lover’s dream come true!

From Sanjeev Sirpal:

On Monday, I was sitting on my friend’s couch in Denver, getting ready to head back to Los Angeles after a week of avoiding stepping on animal dropings and having to hear about the Broncos when I got a call from my good friend Jeff Seltzer.

In an oddly even, metered tone, Jeff said something to the effect of “Radiohead just announced a concert at the Roseland Ballroom this week. I made a $25 charitable donation to KCRW to enter to win tickets.”

Now, at this point I still had no idea where this was going. Roseland Ballroom houses maybe 3,000 people and tickets for Radiohead sold out as soon as they were released. Friends in New York were already saying it was the hardest ticket to get in the city. The chances of winning tickets. To Radiohead. At the Roseland Ballroom. were about as good as Publishers Clearing House knocking on your door with a check for 10 million dollars.

Jeff – “I won two tickets.”

I checked the door.

“If you can get to New York by Wednesday, you’re going to Radiohead.” Jeff said. Again, this was Monday at around 6 pm, in Denver. Could I get to New York by Wednesday?

Yes, yes I could. It was 6:30 am on Wednesday and I was in New York. The story of this whole trip was too great to pass up. I had made the decision that if I could find a last-minute flight to Denver and then get back to the West Coast for less than $750, I was doing it. Tickets to the show were going for $1,600 on the secondary markets anyway.

Someone was even offering to give up their house for a month!

In 1995, I saw a then much lesser-known Radiohead open up for R.E.M during their Monster tour and it was the greatest concert I didn’t realize I was at. Eff it, let’s do this. I had 45 minutes of sleep.

The way the Roseland Ballroom works is that all tickets are general admission and handed out at will call once the venue opens at 6:30 pm. The line started forming sometime around midnight the day before. Jeff was adamant about getting in line early to get a great spot for the show.

By adamant, I mean insane.

He actually called me 85 times while I was on the subway and my phone didn’t have any service. There are rabid Radiohead fans, and there are psychopaths, Jeff is both.

I will say this for Jeff though, he came prepared. He told me to bring a lawn chair, which I did. He then went back to work and left me with lunch, his laptop, and a WiFi connection. It was 1:30 pm. I had still only had 45 minutes sleep. By 2 pm I had found the end of the Internet.

Stories of how I got tickets and got to New York for this concert had spread throughout the line, I was even interviewed about it a couple of times for various music outlets, but I wasn’t the only one who came from out of state.

People had come from Vancouver, Ohio, and San Francisco and the main topics of discussion were obviously favorite Radiohead songs, albums, set list wish lists, and opinions on the different offers people who didn’t have tickets were coming up and giving.

On top of cash, we heard people offering sexual favors. An interesting thing about events like this is the camaraderie developed in the line. Your line-mates not only share a common love but also, in this case, understand the, for lack of a better word, ridiculous awesomeness of this concert, and they share your dedication.

The people you wait in line with for hours are the same people who look after your stuff and make sure your place in line isn’t taken when you leave to grab something to eat or find a bathroom. They’re the people who, when your friend calls for advice on how to deal with a sudden break-up while you’re waiting in line to get into the Roseland on – still –  45 minutes sleep and across the country, offer their own group counseling session. They’re the people who you form a unified front with and make sure you’re all together and don’t get boxed out by an onrush of people when you find yourself 20 ft. from the stage for a Radiohead concert in a 3,000 person theater.

During an instrument change between songs, Thom Yorke had a couple minutes to kill and said that normally at their concerts, the instruments would raise and lower from trap doors on the stage so they would simply play, walk to the new instruments, and play again, but at the Roseland, everything was much smaller so it was a little different than their normal shows.

This was a bit of an understatement considering that their normal shows are selling out Bonnaroo. Seeing Radiohead at the Roseland Ballroom was the equivalent to say, seeing Robert DeNiro act at your local theater in a play directed by Martin Scorsese, and the difference between listening to Radiohead on your iPod and seeing them live is the same as the difference between watching the Super Bowl on TV and winning it.

Those who were lucky enough to see this were treated to two hours and two encores of the band who made their career by being the only band not trying to copy themselves. The set consisted of mostly newer songs from In Rainbows on (and a fantastic, slow, piano-only cover of R.E.M’s “The One I Love.”) and from note one, amongst the simultaneously soothing/frenetic Thom Yorke vocals and dancing and simultaneous guitar and keyboard playing by Jonny Greenwood (using the guitar neck to play the keyboard) Radiohead, as we all knew they would, rocked. the eff. out. Even people who said they didn’t know most of the songs still said it was the best concert they had seen.

In a span of three days, I went from watching Netflix at a buddy’s place, getting ready to deal with rush hour traffic back in L.A., to seeing this. Not a bad week.

And to my girlfriend, whom I left a five minute bumbling message about why I wasn’t going to be back in LA this week, and whose response was “If you ever get the chance to see Radiohead in a theater and I tell you, you can’t go, you should immediately break up with me,” you are awesome.

Sanjeev Sirpal