August 13th, 2003
Opening act Stephen Malkmus may have called them “a solid B-plus audience,” but the sellout crowd scored 100 on the rapture test after Radiohead took the stage – they screamed all the way through the first number, and nobody sat down for the two-hour show. And why not? Radiohead have taken generations of prog rock, grunge, electronica and tortured torch songs and seared away the fat, leaving no flabby histrionics or tubby instrumental solos.
Snuggled in dry-ice clouds before a backdrop that suggested a combination of The Matrix and a mixing board, Radiohead comfortably built thick layers of tension that snapped apart with a snare-drum crack or a cybernetic squawk. Frontman Thom Yorke, whether acting as a writhing waif (“Sit Down. Stand Up”) or a ranting runt (the rarely performed “Creep”), always tempered his paranoia with soothing melody. Jonny Greenwood broke up Yorke’s pristine, high-tenor angst with distorted guitars and electronic jeers. The lack of funk or rhythmic pulse in Phil Selway’s mighty drum thump was meant to drive away the tear-spotted world, not to dance away specific, concrete troubles.
But there are limits to even Radiohead’s detachment from the world. When Yorke changed a lyric in “Creep” from craving a pure soul to wanting to look good next to the object of his desire, he hinted that maybe a top-draw rock star didn’t worry about deep connections anymore. And there comes a time to get down to old-fashioned pop pleasures, which Radiohead delivered with “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere).” The track was given a percussion push, thanks to Jonny and Colin Greenwood’s additional snare-drum work. For a band that thrives on disquiet and misery, it was a much-needed uplift.
This story is from the September 18th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.