Several 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?
“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”
“Faust Arp” (acoustic)
“Exit Music (For a Film)”
“Bangers + Mash”
“House of Cards”
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
Photo credit: Thom Yorke: Tim Cochrane/PA Photos/Retna