Thom Yorke, you wiggly madman. How we missed you. It’s been a couple of years since Radiohead played a live show in America, but wherever these guys have been, they’re clearly back. At New York’s Roseland Ballroom last night, they puttered from guitars to keyboards to drums with all their boyishly restless enthusiasm. Jonny Greenwood bent over his guitar in his supplicant pose; Ed O’Brien stood tall in his new Taste the Blood of Dracula threads and haircut. And Yorke danced around like he was on fire with crazy-not-to-follow energy. His voice, like the whole band, got more supple and lustrous as the night wore on.
Radiohead’s return to the stage, after their recent guest shots on The Colbert Show and Saturday Night Live, was the toughest ticket in town. The line outside the venue wrapped around the block, as fans shivered in the rain or waved placards begging for tickets. But everybody seemed deliriously pumped to be on the scene. It was a hardcore Radiohead crowd: the kind of fans who instinctively cheer when the roadie plugs in the guitar, just because it sounds like “2+2=5.”
The two-hour show went heavy on songs from In Rainbows (their just-plain-best album) and The King of Limbs (their skimpiest since Pablo Honey). At first, they were cautiously feeling their way, retracing their steps onstage. But somewhere in the middle of “All I Need” (one of their greatest, as if it wouldn’t be one of any band’s greatest), you could hear them click into a collective realization of “oh yeah, this is what we do.” That’s when an already-excellent rock show turned into a Radiohead show; from that point on, they didn’t falter for a beat. Even their flubs were cocky, like when Yorke stopped in the middle of “Reckoner” and asked O’Brien, “Did I do that wrong?” (Yes, Thom, afraid you did.) After he spaced the last verse of “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” he shrugged, “I’m obviously going senile.”
As a tribute to the just-broken-up R.E.M., Yorke did a solo piano version of the first verse of “The One I Love,” which segued right into the electro-rush of “Everything In Its Right Place.” They revived the OK Computer space soap “Subterranean Homesick Alien” for the first time in years, introduced by Yorke with typical dry wit: “This one is slightly older than the other ones.”
Yorke began “Bodysnatchers” with a blast of political rage, presumably inspired by the recent NYPD violence against the protestors on Wall Street. “Did you see the film Inside Job?” Yorke asked the crowd. “They’re still here. Still working a few blocks from here.”
Lesser King of Limbs tracks that sound dry and thin in their studio versions, like “Little By Little” or “Morning Mr. Magpie,” heated up in the friction of live performance, with new second bald-guy-drummer Clive Deamer banging away alongside the stalwart Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood. The new songs in the set included a pair of non-album tracks, the piano rant “Daily Mail” and the retro-glitch rave “Staircase.” They also played stump-the-punters with one strange selection from Hail to the Thief – if you bet on “Myxomatosis,” take a bow.
After a glorious tambourine jam on “Reckoner” and a three-song encore, it looked like the show was over as the house lights came up. But when the crowd simply refused to leave, Radiohead came back for a surprise second encore, in their tour t-shirts. They topped off the night with two of their strongest ballads, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and “Nude.” With that, they departed, leaving Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” as their exit music.
On the spectrum of corny-yet-effective rock star moves, “coming back for the encore wearing tour merch because you rocked so hard you soiled your shirt with the rockness of your sweat” ranks somewhere between “lit cigarette in guitar neck” and “adding a second bald drummer.” But that’s one of the amazing things about Radiohead – no rock star move is ever quite the same after these guys do it.
“Little By Little”
“Subterranean Homesick Alien”
“All I Need”
“The One I Love” [REM]
“Everything In Its Right Place”
“The Daily Mail”
“Give Up The Ghost”
“The National Anthem”
“Morning Mr. Magpie”
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
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