Radiohead Wow Madison Square Garden with Amped-Up Angst

Space rockers, 'Kid A' jams and new tunes in New York

Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: KMazur/WireImage

Theater at Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
June 14, 2006

During Radiohead's two-hour show, Thom Yorke played guitar, organ and drums; showed off some near-virtuosic tambourine playing; gave Michael Stipe a shout-out; and performed a sly hip-shake dance. Though Yorke usually puts on a fervent, nuanced show, tonight he seemed unusually engaged: He amped up his angsty moments, focused his malleable voice with particle-ray command and embarked on sprawling flights of fancy.

Playing a 5,000-seat venue they could have sold out nine times over, Radiohead opened with "The Gloaming," a hypnotic slow-burner, before trotting out two new songs slated for their next album (due next year): The so-so "Arpeggi" mashed up churning guitar and Yorke's ghostly moans, and the subtly catchy "15 Step" set Yorke's agitated, punch-and-jab melody over an almost-dancehall beat.

The eight new songs they introduced in the course of the night mostly played like toughened-up versions of the material on 2003's Hail to the Thief: Heavy on propulsive grooves and meaty guitars, the songs favored dark sprawl over proper song form but were still plenty engaging. The standout, "Bangers 'n' Mash," was a serrated, punk-schooled barnburner, with Yorke snarling like a speed-addled Johnny Rotten.

Collage-y, keyboard-driven songs like "Dollars and Cents" featured tweaked arrangements and carefully tended-to details, with guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien massaging synths and kneeling before analog consoles. An extended "Kid A" was stellar: While the band added an insistent trance-pulse to the album version's disjointed music-box patter, Yorke tossed in mantralike ad-libs amid the song's warm, meandering melody. But the show was equally strong as a guitarfest. Big, space-rocking oldies – including "Paranoid Android" and "Just" – sounded especially adrenalized, exploding with chunky riffs, noisy skronk and Greenwood's wailing solos.

Following some tuneful fan faves – including "No Surprises," which Yorke dedicated to "Monsignor Stipe" – Radiohead launched into a sprawling version of "Everything in Its Right Place," setting pillowy electric piano and a light techno groove against Yorke's shape-shifting croon, then leaving the stage one by one as Greenwood mixed what they'd just played into a sea of echoing loops and keyboard spatter The seven-song encore featuringa great "Idioteque" – was icing on the multilayered cake.

"Thank you very much," Yorke said at the end. "It's amazing that anybody still gives a shit." What a kidder.

This story is from the June 13th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.