Put a capital-B Band like Radiohead in a capital-V Venue like Colorado’s Red Rocks, and the possibilities become limitless. Last night, the cloud-filled sky above the natural amphitheater formed the perfect backdrop for the band’s ominous, rumbling guitar rock.
Opening the set with “There, There,” guitarists Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway launched a three-pronged percussive attack that was amplified by the natural amphitheater’s jutting boulders. By the time bassist Colin Greenwood and frontman Thom Yorke joined in, there was obviously something epic brewing.
Underneath it all, Radiohead are a rock band as capable of punk tantrums as psychedelic dreamscapes, and they were determined to prove it last night. Under scorching vertical bars of light that stretched across the back of the stage, they designed a set of musical contradictions to match that of their environment — bouncing from acoustic simplicity to mechanical looping and layering, catchy to chaotic, whispers to yelps.
“Subterranean Homesick Alien” made its first appearance of the band’s tour so far. The remainder of the set drew primarily from the rest of Hail to the Thief along with some live standards: “Kid A,” “Lucky,” “My Iron Lung.”
But Radiohead were never just rehashing the recordings. They weren’t merely reenacting old events. Rather, they were reliving these songs, each note dripping with the same pain or ecstasy felt when the pen first hit the page.
Up front, Yorke flailed as if he’d learned to dance watching Native American rituals on National Geographic. Yorke’s vocal range may be limited technically, but his emotional range compensates, his voice at once fragile and powerful.
Including two encores that together lasted forty minutes, the performance ran to an impressive two hours.
Leaving the stage after ending the first encore, with “Karma Police,” Yorke stopped short, returned to the microphone, offered an impish smile and led the audience in a tender, deafening a cappella round of singing. “This is what you get . . . when you mess with us.”
The intensity was absorbing and exhausting. And somewhere in the midst of electro-fuzz, bleeps and buzzes, piano tickling, solo strums, spastic strobes and sweeping laser-like beams of color, the clouds had cleared.
The set list:
Sit Down. Stand Up
Where I End and You Begin
Go to Sleep
Sail to the Moon
Talk Show Host
Exit Music (For a Film)
The National Anthem
A Punch-up at a Wedding
We Suck Young Blood
Subterranean Homesick Alien
My Iron Lung
Everything in Its Right Place