Radiohead proves nothing is impossible on stage
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
On the surface, it’s not that complicated a song. There’s piano, droning chords and no real chorus to speak of. But Radiohead has never been about surface.
So, on a hot May night in Mansfield, Mass., Thom Yorke and company took apart music once again, letting the deceptive simplicity of “Pyramid Song” wash over more than 20,000 fans. Jonny Greenwood summoned evil tones from his guitar while the band played, electronic noises meshing with analog.
For more than fifteen years, Radiohead has been so far ahead of the curve of modern music, they’ve lapped their most talented peers several times over. Because of that, on stage, as they have on all their records since their second, this night in music was an education on freedom. This is a band that does whatever it wants, and can seemingly do anything it wants. It’s power, and witnessing that power turn into art so gracefully was a privilege.
The show itself is no different. Digital light displays surround the band, with screens depicting stylized renditions of the musicians dip and dive in and out of sight, offering glimpses of the music being made, at once intimate and obscure. It translates well to the music onstage. During “Staircase,” they formed a progression before swooping back, creating a flock of rectangular birds above Thom Yorke and co.
Beyond the visual presentation, the most interesting exercise was in how the minimalist material from The King of Limbs would translate to a summer stage. That was answered immediately, as the off-timed percussion and enveloped vocals of “Bloom” kicked the show off, aided by a surreal, digital backdrop.
But the melodies and the sweetness of those songs, along with a handful of new singles, shone in concert. “The Daily Mail” is simply one of the catchier songs Radiohead has pumped out in the past decade, driven by piano and noise swirls, while “Give Up the Ghost” was carried simply by Thom Yorke’s looped voice, an acoustic guitar and Greenwood accents on a souped-up Fender Telecaster and its effects.
Greenwood is a show unto himself, quietly gliding between keyboards, guitars, laptops, pedals and drums, taking a bow to his Telecaster on “Pyramid Song” or playing a shaker with one hand while manipulating a guitar through a synth on “Reckoner.” As “Everything in its Right Place” bled out onto the crowd and the band walked away one by one, Greenwood was alone, clawing at pedals and knobs on his knees, twisting and stretching out the sound.
The hit singles of the mid 1990s, at best scattered throughout their shows in the past, were no where to be found here. And it’s not as if older material would’ve sounded out of place or jarring next to everything else. “Lucky” and “Airbag,” both from OK Computer, fit like a glove and offered the band to stretch out a bit, especially Yorke’s soaring vocals on the former. But the exclusion of numbers that a casual fan might know wasn’t an aggressive act or a deliberate betrayal. It’s just that these songs were the ones they wanted to play. And with Radiohead, the music and the moment is everything.
As the band wound up the night with “Reckoner,” there was a feeling of calm coming from the stage. This is a band entirely comfortable with who they are and where they are in the world today. This is no longer the frustrated, confused band seen in the 1998 documentary Meeting People Is Easy. The irritations of dealing with worldwide fame in the wake of OK Computer’s success gave the band the reputation of being aloof and unappreciative. But that was a moment in time that has long since passed.
Today, there are no reservations. Everything is the music at hand. There are no expectations anymore to play their 1990s radio hits, to play multiple encores, or to play anything at all. But they will do it — if they feel like it.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org