Shows I'll Never Forget: Radiohead, April 9, 2012

At Key Arena, Seattle, Washington: Besides their well-known status as perennial critics darlings, Radiohead have enjoyed a well-earned reputation through the years as one of the best live bands on the planet. Playing before a packed house this past Monday night at Seattle’s Key Arena — to kick off the West Coast “Coachella” leg of their current U.S. tour — they demonstrated exactly why. In a two hour set that combined brilliant lights, exquisite sound, and a band clearly playing at the top of their game right now, Radiohead’s King Of Limbs show was an absolute stunner.

Let’s start with the setlist.

Although some older fans could probably lodge a semi-legitimate complaint that Radiohead didn’t play a single song from the band’s second album The Bends — or even OK Computer’s “Paranoid Android” for that matter — let’s face reality:  The 1990s are over. The band has long since moved on from the edgier, alternative rock sounds of that period, to it’s current mix of rock with more droning ambient and electronica styles. Perhaps it’s time certain fans did the same. In many ways, Radiohead isn’t even the same band it was back then — at least not musically.

Even so, fans looking for a more rocking show couldn’t have possibly been disappointed with a setlist, where even the more “ambient” songs from The King Of Limbs seemed to carry just that much of an extra kick.  Jonny Greenwood’s searing guitar work was also on display often –  particularly during a blazing version of “There, There.”

Both that song and “15 Step” also focused on poly-rhythmic drum sounds — literally every one in the band was making a racket on some form of percussion instrument at numerous points during this show. Radiohead’s original drummer Phil Selway also had help from a second skinsman, Clive Deamer, on loan for this tour from Portishead. Even with so many drummers flailing away in unison, the sound was still flawless. Every single beat shot through the air with a distinct, crisp crack.

But for hardcore fans, this was also a setlist jam-packed with either rarely played, or brand new songs altogether. At one point, about midway through the set, there was a particularly breathtaking series of such rarities, that included “The Daily Mail,” “These Are My Twisted Words” and the brand new “Identikit.” For diehard Radiohead geeks, this was about as close to a dream setlist as it gets.

Each of these songs was accompanied by brilliant lighting effects that included thousands of LED lights projecting swirling patterns displayed on a screen behind the band, as well as what seemed like dozens of HD monitors hanging from the rafters in various configurations. These captured all the action in various close-up shots of the band. The effect was dramatic at times — with Radiohead often looking like black silhouetted images of themselves projected against the stunning light spectacle going on behind them. This was not unlike the old psychedelic light shows used by 1960s bands like the Jefferson Airplane — only upgraded for the modern, computer age.

As already noted, the sound mix at this show was also exceptional — an impressive feat in and of itself, for a very loud band playing in an NBA arena refurbished two decades ago for a team that moved out of town after deciding it wasn’t up to snuff. The many songs featuring numerous drummers were perhaps the most obvious beneficiary of the surprisingly great sound. But Colin Greenwood’s bass has never sounded fatter. All of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s bits on guitar (and the other various electronic gadgets Radiohead uses in concert), also seemed to have an extra bite at this show.

But musically, Thom Yorke’s voice was the real star. As a singer who uses his voice as more of another instrument, than as a means to interpret lyrics, Yorke’s voice has always been one of this band’s greatest selling points anyway. His haunting falsetto was mixed way out front where it should be, and put to particularly effective use in the encores — especially during the multi-layered vocal loops used on “Give Up The Ghost” and the traditional show-closer “Everything In It’s Right Place.”

“Reckoner” was the real stunner though. Here, Yorke’s eerie, otherworldly vocal wails echoed through the rafters like an alien dispatch from some distant planet. Of the five times I have seen Radiohead in concert, Yorke has simply never sounded better. The In Rainbows song was also dedicated to Jonny Greenwood, who was apparently suffering from a hand injury (prompting Yorke to call him a “real trooper”).

You wouldn’t have known it from where I sat, though. Greenwood, like the rest of Radiohead on this night, sounded amazing. It was indeed, one of those shows I’ll never forget.

Setlist, April 9, at Seattle, Washington:
1. Bloom
2. Airbag
3. 15 Step
4. Little By Little
5. Myxomatosis
6. The Gloaming
7. Morning Mr. Magpie
8. Pyramid Song
9. The Daily Mail
10. These Are My Twisted Words
11. Nude
12. Identikit
13. Lotus Flower
14. There, There
15. Feral
16. Idioteque
Encore:
17. How To Disappear Completely
18. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
19. You And Whose Army
20. Lucky
Second Encore:
21. Give Up The Ghost
22. Reckoner
23. Everything In It’s Right Place

    

Glen Boyd

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    MORE FROM AROUND THE WATERCOOLER AT SOMETHING ELSE! TOWERS …

    TOM JOHNSON: Good stuff, Glen. Sounds like the show I saw a couple weeks back – different setlist, of course. We actually got a few more OKC songs – along with Lucky, we got Airbag and Paranoid Android. I was going to write something but realized I was going to spend more time writing about how annoyed I was at the drunks behind us (one spent the last half of the show loudly foretelling that they would definitely end with Karma Police. As much as I like that song, I was really pleased they didn’t appease him. He also walk-danced to nearly every song, which got especially entertaining on the faster songs.) This is why I rarely go to concerts anymore. I think I’m kinda add – what’s that? shiny thing! – and can be easily distracted, so people like this drive me up the wall. Nowadays I hope for a great live DVD so I can sit at home with few distractions.

    GLEN BOYD: Tom, I swear I ran into the same guy in the can in Seattle…only he was insisting they’d end with “Paranoid Android.” Same result, too.

    TOM JOHNSON: Hey, that makes sense. He saw them here, where they ended with PA, and then went up to Seattle and expected the same setlist. If you’d sat by him, you’d probably have heard him blabber on and on at the end of the show about how much he loved his friends, “so ****ing much, man, so much, best ****ing friends ever” and how he was so glad they got to see the show together because it was “the best ****ing show ever,” and because of all of that, they didn’t owe him for the tickets – “it’s my ****ing treat!” A real scholar and ****ing gentleman.