On the scene: Radiohead kick off their world tour in Florida

Radiohead_lSeveral of you mentioned yesterday that you are determined to see Radiohead in concert at least once within your lifetimes. My own relationship with the Oxford rockers differs slightly: I have made it my personal mission to witness their live show as many times as possible before I croak. Now, they don’t tour the U.S. all that often, and my dedication to this mission is limited by my simultaneous commitment to things like “not going broke” and “remaining employed,” so I have actually seen the band on a comparatively paltry four occasions in the past eight years (plus one very cool set that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood played on their own). The fourth was last night at West Palm Beach’s Cruzan Amphitheatre, the very first stop on a 40-odd-date world tour. It was a show I’d been waiting to see for nearly two years — pretty much since I got home from the last Radiohead show I saw, a June 2006 date in Boston.

Back then, they were midway through playing a series of smallish venues, road-testing the new material that would eventually become last fall’s In Rainbows. I don’t believe they’ve ever played those songs for a crowd as huge as the one that packed the amphitheater last night, though, a sea of adoring fans stretching way back past the proper seats into a verdant field. The stage was minimally adorned — a few light columns and a video screen, all energy-saving LEDs, plus several Tibetan flags — so it was just the five of them and all 20,000 or so of us, no distractions, no cushion.

“I have no idea how famous Radiohead are here,” Thom (pictured, at a gig earlier this year) remarked a few minutes into the show — kidding, I think, but you could forgive the guys for feeling some first-night jitters early on. First up was a vaguely anxious-seeming run through new single “All I Need” (for which Thom sported a sharp white blazer, very Miami Vice); next, on “Bodysnatchers,” Jonny appeared to break a string after they switched to full three-guitar attack mode, briefly interrupting their momentum. Yet by the time Jonny ripped into his solo for song three, “There There,” the band’s jackets were off and they’d slid into a comfortable, captivating groove. They stayed in a sunny mood for the rest of the balmy evening, frequently exchanging pleased grins with one another and the crowd. When another minor gear foul-up forced them to rewind and play the last few minutes of “Arpeggi” all over again later in the night, Thom just cracked wise in a funny accent: “Sorry about that, we obviously did not practees zees enuff!”

There was a time when Thom seemed to shy away from his voice’s angelic quality in concert, preferring to snarl or swallow his words. Those were great shows, too, but there’s something really special about the way he’s allowing himself to sing out these days. He hit and sustained beautiful, clear high notes last night at the respective peaks of “Reckoner,” “Nude,” “How to Disappear Completely,” as well as during emotional encores of “Exit Music (For a Film)” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” (Extra credit belongs to guitarist Ed O’Brien,whose backing vocals shone throughout the show; he and Thom have become quite an affecting tag-team.) Best of all for me was “Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was.” I’ve never seen them play that ’95 song live before, and it felt absolutely cleansing last night. All in all, a ballad-lover’s dream.

That’s not to say they neglected the spikier, more avant side of their catalogue. Thom actually looked happiest during the super-creepy “The Gloaming,” hopping around the stage in a funky update on his patented manic-monkey dance. They also did soulful versions of turn-of-the-millennium staples like “Morning Bell,” “Optimistic,” and”Idioteque” — Kid A run through an In Rainbows prism, as it were. Similarly, they foregrounded the soaring melodies at the heart of rawk anthems like “Where I End and You Begin,””Airbag” (“This one’s a bit older, just like me”), “The National Anthem,” “Just,” and  even the cacophonous B-side “Bangers + Mash.” Radiohead’s career has produced so many songs of such palpable pain and alienation. It’s so satisfying, as a fan, to see the band revisit that entire career arc now that they seem to be in a better-adjusted place.

So there you have it. Another mind-blowing night with, for this superfan’s money, the greatest band in the world. My only real complaint is that they didn’t play anything from 2001’s Amnesiac — which, of course, just means I’m going to have to make sure I catch them again this summer, when they will no doubt make up for this omission. Til then, let’s hear it. Were any of you PopWatchers at last night’s show?Or are you planning to see Radiohead elsewhere on this tour?

Set list:
“All I Need”
“Bodysnatchers”
“There There”
“Reckoner”
“The Gloaming”
“Morning Bell”
“Nude”
“How to Disappear Completely”
“15 Step”
“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”
“Idioteque”
“Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was”
“Where I End and You Begin”
“Airbag”
“Everything in Its Right Place”
“The National Anthem”
“Videotape”
[set break]
“Optimistic”
“Just”
“Faust Arp” (acoustic)
“Exit Music (For a Film)”
“Bangers + Mash”
[set break]
“House of Cards”
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”

Photo credit: Thom Yorke: Tim Cochrane/PA Photos/Retna

Comments (30 total) Add your comment
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  • Rose Tyler

    Boy he is pretty. I really want to see them live. Of course they aren’t really coming anywhere near here. They are doing one show in Indiana so anything can happen. That’s the really good set list.

  • NanFan

    Oh what a great set list. I’m seeing them in Dallas on May 18th, also outdoors…It’s been a very long wait to get to see them again. I only got to see them once and I didnt appreciate them at all at the time. They opened up for R.E.M. in 1995. I was like, hurry up and get off, I wanna see R.E.M…., what a dumba** I was back then.

  • Tara

    Wow, Bullet Proof. I’m seeing them twice in L.A. this summer. I hope for Bullet Proof and Exit Music as well.

  • Adam

    I was there in West Palm Beach last night, way, way, way at the top of the lawn, so I couldn’t see much monkey dancing, but the band certainly sounded good. I’m partial to “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” so I guess I could have been happier with the set list, but they weren’t just there to entertain me. All in all, a pretty strong show, and those lit-up icicle things behind the band were pretty cool.

  • Wilson

    My wife and I sat (stood) just in front of Simon-self-proclaimed-Ultra-Radiohead-Fan!! Great article, and great to meet you….Thanks for helping out with the song progression.
    I just got into Radiohead about a year ago and haven’t looked back since. Someone turned me on to OK Computer and a month later I had to have everything they’ve ever done…. They truly live up to all the Beatles comparasions and voluminous daunting hype you find on the net. I’m not sure that I remember the last time music moved me so much.
    Last night was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had at a concert. If Radiohead comes within 100 miles of you this year, make sure you are there.

  • Martha

    Wow, this set list makes me doubly excited to see them in Boston in August. And thanks, Simon, for the shout-out to Ed’s backing vocals – I’ve always thought he and Thom complement each other nicely.

  • Meredith

    I was there as well, and never having seen Radiohead before, I was absolutely in awe. I was honestly moved throughout the whole performance – it was perfection.

  • LAuren

    radio was amazing i dont really listen to them and seeing them live
    was crazy the light show soo sweeet..
    loved it

  • LAuren

    radiohead was amazing i dont really listen to them and seeing them live
    was crazy the light show soo sweeet..
    loved it

  • dom

    oh daddy, i cant wait to hear them. Charlotte the 9th, thats only two days away. and then again in germany in june at the southside festival. thats gonna be the sickest summer ever. cant believe i am this lucky.

  • Celimene

    Saw them on the pre-“In Rainbows” tour and wasn’t blown away, like I been at previous concerts. Had decided I wasn’t going to try again this time around, but this has me sold. Roskilde Festival, here I come!
    That said, I can die a happy woman having heard them sing “Let Down” and “Black Star” live on their last tour. Here’s hoping for “Nude” and “Scatterbrain”!

  • jarrod

    Does anyone else listen to In_Rainbows at least once every day? i paid $200 over the ticket price just to make sure i got a ticket. It’s going to be the best thing I’ve seen or are ever going to see. RADIOHEAD IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE BEST BAND OF ALL TIME.

  • nay-lo

    Saw them in Worcester, MA in 1998 and just got my tix in the mail yesterday to the Boston show in August. Can’t wait. One of my all time favorite memories – My husband and I listening to The Bends on our way back down Waimea Canyon on our honeymoon last year. Priceless. This summer’s tix were expensive, but worth every penny.

  • Mandy

    I’m seeing them on Friday in Charlotte. Not for lack of trying this will be my first Radiohead concert! I can hardly wait!!!!

  • Carolina

    I was there!!!! Nude and Exit Music were AMAZING!!! The light display they used, with it’s bright colors and icicle was beautiful. Can’t wait to see them again.

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