OK Go’s genius music videos become the big-screen backdrop for an interactive rock show
By Christina Campodonico
You could say OK Go’s music videos are out of this world. For the sake of art, music and generally pushing the envelope, the pop-rock band has filmed in zero gravity, driven a customized Chevy Sonic through a musical obstacle course, commissioned the creation of an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, and distilled 4.2 seconds of rapid-fire motions into a beautifully synched slow-mo piece of video art.
And who can forget their 2006 YouTube sensation “Here It Goes Again,” a one-take wonder in which the foursome bounced between eight running treadmills doing an adorably dorky dance that took the internet by storm? The video accumulated millions of views and won the band a Grammy. In the words of Consequence of Sound’s Dusty Henry, “Before ‘breaking the internet’ was a thing, OK Go broke the internet.”
But when the band was just starting out in the late ’90s / early 2000s, they didn’t quite foresee the potential of the then-fledgling YouTube to launch their careers.
“We weren’t necessarily attracted to YouTube in the early days,” says OK Go bassist and vocalist Tim Nordwind, speaking on the band’s behalf. “At the time we were like, ‘We don’t have time to make stuff for YouTube. We’re on tour.’ … I think at the most we thought, ‘It’s kind of cool that there’s this new creative space where there’s no middle man and we can just make something and put it on there and our fans can find it.’”
Fortunately the newness of the platform and labor intensiveness of creating videos for the web didn’t turn the band off, nor blunt their creativity. Quite the opposite — they’re still making awesome music videos for the internet, but are now touring an IRL experience that brings their online videos to life.
On Saturday, the band plays live to a selection of their music videos at UCLA’s Royce Hall and opens the floor to audience questions between songs.
If this doesn’t sound like your typical rock concert, you’d be right. OK Go wanted to break out of that mold for this live show so that fans of all ages could attend.
“This is an opportunity for families to come see us,” says Nordwind. “Sometimes parents don’t want to bring their kids to a live rock show. This is more of like a universally enjoyable thing where families can come and watch the videos and hear the music and there’s something for everyone.”
It’s also a way for the band and audiences to navigate the “artistic cultural terrain” between OK Go’s music and videos, which they conceptualize and develop separately before fusing them together in their finished films.
“There certainly is a piece of what we do that, up until recently, we’ve left that to the internet and the rock show is the rock show,” says Nordwind. “This new show is kind of nice because there’s a bit of connecting of the dots to everything that we do.”
The idea for OK Go’s live-scored video show came to Nordwind after attending an Ace Hotel screening of the 1931 film “Dracula” with live music written by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet.
“I started thinking about the fact that we make a lot of short films,” recalls Nordwind, “[but] most people only ever experience our videos on a screen about as big as their phone or maybe their computer. I started thinking it would be really, really cool to foster an experience where people could come see those videos on the big screen with a soundtrack that’s larger than life.”
For the live show, OK Go has sought out venues, like Royce Hall, to create a “cinematic experience or theatrical experience,” says Nordwind, who also enjoys the “intimate” quality of this event.
“We did the first two shows a couple of weeks ago and I was really pleased with how it felt,” he says. “It felt like a real community event.”
In some ways, the show’s gather-round-the-campfire feel harkens back to a simpler time, when the band was filming their breakout music video “A Million Ways” in lead singer/guitarist Damian Kulash’s backyard with little more than a video camera, some dance moves by Kulash’s sister Trish Sie and each other.
“It was just the five of us doing us,” says Nordwind. “There weren’t these big crews and things like that. … Those early ones, for me, feel kind of the purest.”
Similarly, it’s not the scale of an idea, but the purity of it that drives OK Go to continue creating ever more interesting projects.
“I think at some level, it doesn’t have to be the craziest, most expensive idea and wildest piece of technology,” says Nordwind. “The ultimate thing is we’re trying to create connection and a feeling. … The challenge in anything that we do, I think, is just to take what we’ve got and see if we can make something good out of it. That forever feels challenging.”
OK Go performs at 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 4) at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood. Tickets are $15 to $69 at cap.ucla.edu.