Local rockers pay tribute to Radiohead, the band that has abandoned Minnesota

Image courtesy of the artists.

Image courtesy of the artists.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Radiohead last played Minneapolis. In their absence, a group of Twin Cities musicians has stepped in to bring the U.K. art-rock titans’ music to life on stage.

At First Avenue tonight, three local bands will take on some of Radiohead’s most celebrated records. Gucci Little Piggy will play OK Computer in its entirety to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that landmark album. They’ll be joined by Kid Villain performing Kid A from start to finish, as well as the Teddy Holidays tackling In Rainbows front to back.

All of these musicians are passionate about the music of Radiohead. And they took it upon themselves to perform these anthems of isolation live to area fans as frustrated as they are about Radiohead continually skipping the Twin Cities.

“There’s a point, as a fan, where you just have to say, ‘All right, I’m going to take matters into my own hands,’” says Al Church, who’s standing in for Thom Yorke in Gucci Little Piggy. “We know a ton of people here that love Radiohead, and we just want to bring them together. There are a lot of angry Minnesotans who want to see Radiohead and never have.”

These same three bands played a similar night featuring Radiohead material at the Cedar Cultural Center two years ago, and they’re anxious to bring these songs to the Mainroom, especially after the band once again neglected the Twin Cities on their recent A Moon Shaped Pool tour (while playing the comparable market of Kansas City for the second time in five years).

Performing the technical, intricate music of Radiohead is a tough task for even the most proficient musician, but Church has a crack band alongside him -- one that feels more like a bowling league than an actual group, he jokes. Don House, Alex Young, George Hadfield, Ryan Rupprecht, and Danny O’Brien (along with a slew of special guests including Aby Wolf, Chris Koza, LOTT, Casey Call) will add their own distinctive layers to these indelible songs.

For Church, it’s a daunting task, especially when it’s unclear precisely how the band created some of the inventive sounds heard on the record.

“A lot of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar playing is abstract. It rips up all the rules as far as chord theory, music theory, and melody goes,” Church says. “The solo on ‘Paranoid Android’ just doesn’t make any sense. But it works so well. It goes up in half-steps, and I’m blown away every time I hear it. The voices, the sounds, and the textures that they were creating are tough to nail down. Our band practice is just a mess of pedals, because we’re really trying to pay respect and replicate that sound as best we can.”

There were a lot of live Radiohead YouTube viewing sessions involved for Gucci Little Piggy as well, as they gleaned as many insights as they can into the band’s tempestuous sonic universe. “It’s definitely a research project,” Church says. “It’s like journalism really, taking notes and trying to soak up as much information as we can.”

During Radiohead’s last performance in Minneapolis -- in 1997 at the State Theatre on the OK Computer tour, coincidentally -- the band had a massive wall of blinding strobe lights above the stage meant to disorient the crowd, so we would have no real idea about where, exactly, the sound was coming from. It was a performance from a band at the height of their creative potency, rarefied air that the group continues to operate in (as evidenced by the pioneering electronic transformation of their follow up, Kid A, and the brilliant, pay-what-you-want elegance of In Rainbows, the other two records on offer on Friday night).

“I’ve internalized these songs so much, and I’ve listened to them so much,” Church says fondly. “A lot of it just comes back, even when we’re doing dry runs through the songs to see where we’re at. It’s really fun, because I don’t feel like I’m a cover band playing in a bar. It feels like I’m learning something, and it’s an educational experience. I’m learning more and more about how I would normally play something, just in a new way.”

The 20th Anniversary of 'OK Computer' Celebration - A Night of Radiohead
With: Gucci Little Piggy, Kid Villain, the Teddy Holidays
Where: First Avenue
When: 7 p.m. Fri. May 19
Tickets: $13/$15; more info here