Sunday, March 4, 2012

Radiohead, Houston 3/3/12 - I was There, and it was Awesome

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Yorke

Thom Yorke sat down at the electric piano his crew had wheeled onto the stage for him and began playing… something, and he kind of let his hands brood over the keys for a few seconds. I knew what was coming but I didn’t really know. Eventually the familiar progression from Kid A’s “Everything in its Place” filled Toyota Center, backed by energetic electronic drums. I think I actually started dancing at that point, and I never dance.

This song, which came after the first encore, near the end of the show, was a sort of microcosm of the show as a whole, where Radiohead infused a great deal more verve into songs that have a more soothing, mellow feel when consumed in CD form.

As a person who has never seen Yorke and company live, or even watched very many youtube clips, for that matter, the power of Saturday’s performance was not something I was ready for.

The show was chiefly a showcase for Radiohead’s more recent material, with little more than cursory attention paid to the “classics.” No “Creep,” no “High and Dry,” to be found. They did find time to give the Houston crowd an awesome rendition of “There There” and ended the show with “Paranoid Android,” but the meat of the set was dedicated to In Rainbows and The King of Limbs. There are many great bands who would piss off the crowd if they tried to do a live show without majoring on their old faves, but Radiohead’s ability to carry a show on relatively new material is a testament to the band’s unrelenting passion for their craft and their ability to stay ahead of the game for two decades.

A list of the highlights of the show would be dominated by songs from Limbs, the short, laidback project from last year that hardly anyone would describe as their masterpiece. The show was a chance to listen to this album for the first time, as Radiohead reinvigorated tracks that I thought were meant to help you chill. “Bloom,” the first song of the night was nearly unrecognizable, and “Good Morning Mr. Magpie,” equipped with a heavier bass line, gave the crowd a new appreciation for the album. “Separator” was also enlivened yet still maintained the hypnotic quality that made it one of my instant favorites, and “Give Up the Ghost” brought chills to every spine in the room. When I downloaded The King of Limbs, I couldn’t imagine that these almost lethargic songs could translate to a live setting, much less an arena atmosphere, but I was very, very wrong. I’m praying for some sort of King of Limbs concert album in the future (and no, the Basement performances give you no indication of how good it was).

The other aspect of the show, and Radiohead in general, is the fusion of electronic music and rock. Songs like “Lotus Flower” (Thom plays some mean maracas) and “The Gloaming”gave the crowd a taste of this part of the Radiohead menu, and showed that this is a band that can rock even without the traditioinal rock tools. All Radiohead needs is Yorke’s voice and someone turning nobs on some electronic device, and art is created.

The stage design was elaborate but not overproduced, with several monitors giving the focus to certain people, moving to different areas of the stage as the night went on. It served as the perfect backdrop.

As the band played “These are My Twisted Words,” I remember thinking that there is something almost otherworldly about Radiohead, like they are visiting us, bringing us a taste of what it’s like to live on another level of existence.

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