Talk about a case of déjÃ vu. It was only four years ago that Radiohead launched their In Rainbows tour in South Florida, a jaunt that would lead them across the U.S. and headlining festivals like Lollapalooza and All Points West. With their innovative pay-what-you-want LP, the UK collective captured the eyes and ears of millions worldwide again, snatching up a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and even receiving the nominator for Album of the Year. A similar situation presents itself in 2012, though with slight tweaks. For one, The King of Limbs, their latest LP, wasn’t as widely accepted as In Rainbows, and while it did receive five Grammy nominations this year, it didn’t bring home any gold in the end. But, to most, that’s more or less irrelevant; instead, what’s been rather vexing is the lack of promotion or publicity – in other words, a tour. Rest assured, oh temperate fanbase, they’re back.
Last night, Radiohead unwrapped its newly minted tour with a sold-out concert at Miami’s scorching American Airlines Arena. Monday night or not, the thousands in attendance were ready for the experience, and there really isn’t another word for it. With their double encores, spectacle of lights, and an engaging international audience, Radiohead isn’t your average arena rock concert; it’s an enigmatic escape that demystifies much of the band’s core work. What sounds so alien and chimerical on record comes to fruition on-stage. Given the bounty of instrumentation within The King of Limbs, and the lack of live appearances since its release, few in attendance had a clear head about what they were going to experience.
That sort of mystery played to the band’s advantage. As ambient house music filled the seaside arena, the lights came down, the band hit the stage, and “Bloom” rolled on through. With Portishead’s Clive Deamer alongside Phil Selway, there’s a dense percussive backbone that hasn’t truly been exhibited in previous Radiohead performances. Still, there are some images this band can’t shake; for example, a spastic Thom Yorke (now with a pony tail!) and the lanky swagger of one Jonny Greenwood (also on drums, at least on this track). Food for thought: What other band headlining arenas could open with something like “Bloom”?
The Limbs opening track offered a quick preview to the night at large. While some might have envisioned a fully-digitalized show, filtered through MacBook Pros and various processors, they would be wrong. This was a truly analog gig, framing the band’s inherent abilities to precision. On “Morning Mr. Magpie”, the audience stood stunned at the intricate instrumentation between each member, specifically between the eerie, cut up guitar lines that skitter behind Yorke’s haunting croon. On a quiet track like “Codex”, the band remained gentle and stoic, illuminated by the floating box displays that hung above them and shifted in multiple positions. Now, they’ve always been a focused act on-stage, but it’s at another level today.
“Hello? Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” Yorke whispered from his piano bench. Here’s one major difference between this show and their tour opener back in 2008: They wanted to be there. When Radiohead hit West Palm Beach four years ago, the band felt distant and affronting; no doubt a stellar show, but hardly any interaction. Last night, Yorke insisted in keeping us around throughout the set. Those aforementioned displays offered close glimpses to the band at hand; at any given moment, you could focus on whatever any member was working on. For an arena rock show, it’s hard to bring that level of intimacy, and that alone was quite a surprise.
One point of contention across the net as of late has been the band’s setlists. What would they play? (A topic we digressed on last week, in fact.) As expected, the band dived into an assortment of B-sides and past singles, the likes of which included a rare appearance of “Kid A” and a first-time performance of OK Computer B-side, “Meeting in the Aisle”. These went over well with the rabid fanbase, who screamed in adoration at the first note of each.
With eight albums in tow, not counting the endless B-sides and EPs, Radiohead has plenty to work with live. However, most of the attention was drawn to Limbs and its predecessor In Rainbows. Plenty of highlights here: Yorke screaming “Fuck it!” before launching into “Bodysnatchers”, the backdrop-heavy “Nude”, the fumbling innocence between Jonny and Yorke on “Give Up the Ghost”, and the intense connection between each member on the sprawling and recycling instrumentation that supports “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. The latter inclusion now feels like a live staple, cementing the band as a well-oiled machine.
But, it wouldn’t be a true headline-ready topic for those within the music industry without a pair of new songs, which is exactly what Radiohead offered. Miami enjoyed new cuts “Identikit” and “Cut a Hole”, two inclusions that admittedly have some work cut out for them, though still an exciting opportunity to see early on. (If you recall, nearly half of In Rainbows originally surfaced on-stage; in fact, some argue early renditions of “Videotape” are still superior.) As expected, the audience held back their energy during these two offerings, with most reaching for their cell phones and social networks – some just stood in awe and let the tracks seduce them.
Admittedly, hearing set closer “Karma Police” was a relief. After nearly two hours of soaking in the band’s more current work, it was nice to just go back. To date, the radio staple continues to hit all the right chords – literally and metaphorically – and fits right in with anything they’ve worked on since. Some might call it a tease, the fans who grew up on Pablo Honey, The Bends, or OK Computer, but they’d most likely agree that despite the misses (“Paranoid Android”, “Everything In Its Right Place”, or “Fake Plastic Trees” would have struck anyone’s heart), the UK export gave concertgoers something they couldn’t experience elsewhere. Isn’t that why we buy concert tickets to begin with?
Photography by Lauren Guagno and Phillip Roffman.
The Daily Mail
Meeting in the Aisle
You and Whose Army?
Cut A Hole
Give Up the Ghost