West Palm Beach, Florida — with its disposable income, constant sunshine and skin-stretching breast implants — is either the most ridiculous place for Radiohead to kick off their latest tour of the U.S., or just the most ridiculously appropriate.
Radiohead clearly reveled in their surroundings, as Thom Yorke strolled onstage wearing a Don Johnson-styled white blazer while wryly crooning “All I Need” like a Miami lounge lizard to open last night’s show, the first on the band’s U.S. tour for In Rainbows. The impersonation only made the music seem more menacing; not just a simmering come-on, but a song about obsession and grotesquerie. Those sleights of hand are what Radiohead shows are all about: The jacket came off promptly, video screens crackled monstrously to life, and Radiohead ripped into a snarling take on “Bodysnatchers.” Just as Yorke had stripped himself back down to a non-descript rocker, his band had suddenly mutated into a hulking arena monster.
Radiohead must have made some serious cash with In Rainbows, and by the looks of it they’ve spent a good part of that money on an incredible new live set-up. To deafening applause, the quintet took the stage enclosed in a massive cave of long, drape-like lighting fixtures, which hung down vertically from the stage’s ceiling programmed for a variety of dazzling effects. Behind them, an ultra-wide movie screen blared thermal video of each member from multiple angles. Both the amplifiers and Yorke’s piano were emblazoned with Tibetan flags.
The band’s show was a beautifully played set heavy on new material, a study in carefully maintained sonic contrasts. Where “Reckoner,” “Nude” and “House of Cards” proffered dreamy spaciousness, cuts like “Bangers and Mash” and “Idioteque” worked within tightly constricted rhythmic patterns. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” did a bit of both, with Phil Selway’s break-beat drums jostling hotly beneath a silky guitar figure and Yorke’s bottom-of-the-well falsetto. While Jonny Greenwood spend a good amount of time thrashing out shoe-gazing guitar squall as though he was cutting down a tree, with “Faust Arp”, the audience got a rare acoustic guitar duet. During the second encore, the skilled multiinstrumentalist casually plunked out synth chords with the headstock of his guitar while also picking an arpeggio.
“We just spent three days in Miami beach,” Yorke told the crowd in disbelief towards the end of the show, taking a break from his grade-schooler-on-Tang hopping routine. He shook his head, widened his eyes and spun his index finger around his temple. “Saw some very strange reconstructions. It made me proud to be pale white and British.” Yorke stared out at the palm trees lining the perimeter of the amphitheatre’s shell and laughed. The crowd went crazy.
After two encores, the band closed with a ringing “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” “Immerse yourself,” Yorke sang, “in love.” Of all this band’s contradictions, the best is that they play music dealing with isolation for massive crowds of people. Only in its live performances does the curtain come fully off that irony, and when it does, it’s usually to reveal that most of those songs are simply about connection.
“All I Need”
“How to Disappear Completely”
“Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was”
“Where I End and You Begin”
“Everything in its Right Place”
“The National Anthem”
“Exit Music (For a Film)”
“Bangers and Mash”
“House of Cards”