Thursday, September 29
Better than: Groceries for the next six weeks.
When Radiohead took the stage at 10:07 p.m. on Thursday night, people were talking. When the amusingly Cobain-coiffed frontman Thom Yorke acknowledged the sold-out crowd of 3,500 with a one-word salutation (“Hey”) after the set-opening “Bloom,” people were talking. Throughout OK Computer bustout “Subterranean Homesick Alien”? More chit-chat. Even during the delicate “Codex”—a plot point at Radiohead shows where I’ve seen large theaters and even arenas taper down to an impossible church-like silence—people talked and talked. And talked. How they managed to score tickets. Why the band couldn’t just suck it up and play “Creep.” How they were crushing it despite the recession. No topic was off limits. “That’s alright,” said Yorke with a trace of irony during the upright-piano intro to “The Daily Mail” near the end of the set. “It’s Thursday night. You can talk, I don’t care.”
The show was a hot ticket. And many, it seemed, were there just to be there, watching alongside Ed Norton, Jack Black, John C. Reilly and ?uestlove. Despite a paperless ticketing system designed to combat scalpers—buyers were required to enter the venue immediately upon receiving tickets at will call—the going rate for a “plus-one” was $500 and up. But the scenery (literally) and insufferable walla didn’t keep Radiohead from delivering on its nominal reputation as Best Live Act in the World, as the English rockers roared through a setlist that borrowed heavily from The King Of Limbs.
That album, the band’s eighth long-player, was received with a mix of confusion and hesitant approval when it dropped in February. It’s an album of secrets, more Low than Ziggy Stardust. But it shouldn’t shock anyone that songs like the driving “Morning Mr. Magpie” and the dubsteppy “Feral”—which have been criticized as cold, redundant and antiseptic on record—are bangers live, with veteran stickman Phil Selway hammering out the complex and mechanic polyrhythmic drum loops with assists from new touring drummer Clive Deamer (formerly of Portishead) and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood (occasionally on E-drums). Much of the throbbing bass-heavy material—sometimes deep enough to buzz your cheeks—managed to cheat the acoustics of a room notorious for swallowing the lower levels. Yorke’s inimitable vocals sounded as on-point as ever.
The nearly-two-hour set moved seamlessly from Kid A standbys likes the gnarly “The National Anthem” and driving “Everything In Its Right Place,” to In Rainbows ballads like “All I Need” and “Nude,” to deep cuts like the King outcast “The Daily Mail” and the never-before-played “Supercollider.” The vision of Yorke bathed in green light and thrashing around during the filthy “Myxomatosis”—the highlight of the two encores—was a welcome nod to the band’s alt-rock roots. But Thursday’s show was about the Radiohead of today and tomorrow, if you stopped long enough to hear it.
Critial bias: When I was 20 I subscribed to a theory that there are two kinds of music fans: those who have seen Radiohead live and those who haven’t. Simplistic, but the point stands almost 10 years on.
Random notebook dump: Forty bucks for a T-shirt but only four for a Molson.
Little By Little
The National Anthem
Subterranean Homesick Alien
Like Spinning Plates
All I Need
True Love Waits > Everything In Its Right Place
The Daily Mail
Morning Mr Magpie
Give Up The Ghost (just Thom and Jonny)