Radiohead is back to save the universe and they kicked off the first of two nights at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa. last night to a sold-out crowd. The Tower is a perfect and intimate venue to see one of rock's most atmospheric bands.
Radiohead came onstage to the sounds of an FM radio searching through the dial, which found the band opening with the creepy "You and Whose Army" from the Amnesiac CD. Thom Yorke's distorted face was fragmented on the 10 back-dropped projection screens, which resembled shards of glass above the band. This was a very delicate approach compared to their usually more epilepsy-inducing light shows of the past.
"You and your cronies..." pointing his fingers singing as if egging the crowd on much to their delight. Yorke has every right to egg the crowd on. After all, he's the leader of one of rock's most fearless bands.
Not only do they have the confidence to save the universe, on any given night of any tour they play, Yorke and his mates, seem like they have the power to destroy it - BIG BANG STYLE - as they ripped into a blistering "the National Anthem" to a frenzied crowd, and then into "2+2=5" with such precision and intensity, I literally felt my body go numb.
Nobody in the house knew what to expect as far as a setlist. With Yorke's new upcoming solo project "the Eraser," just recently leaked online and due for release a month away, there was a possibility that those songs could've crept into the set. Additionally, this was one of the smallest venues that Radiohead have performed at in over ten years, so it was a very special night, indeed.
No signs of the Eraser, nor Pablo Honey, which at this point solely represents the end of the bands formative years. They never need worry about the imposing success that "Creep" once plagued them with. They have proven themselves so many times in the studio and at sold-out shows that looking back at this point, to when some claimed they were doomed to be a one hit wonder, is plain foolish.
The hauntingly beautiful "Exit Music (for a film)" from the mighty OK Computer album, literally shut the place up, and is such an essential spine-chilling moment of any Radiohead show. The audience was treated to a set that also included the first ever performance of the song "Kid A" from the album of the same name. And the elegant song Nude (an often bootlegged track), followed, which the band has been playing since about 1998.
As for the new material goes, I thought it was very reminiscent of the Bends era Radiohead. Very guitar driven, but with the the swagger and conviction that they achieved on "Hail To the Thief." The new track "Arpeggi" is very reminiscent of "Street Spirit", which is a good thing, but the guitar line is much more brooding.
The band also performed a menacing version of "Myxomatosis" (including Thom adding in a never recorded additional verse), which was probably the best version I've heard. Radiohead used the Tower Theater's natural acoustics as an instrument itself during the song's manic slapback break-down. "Bangers N Mash" had luscious vibe of Talking Heads, introducing what would be a more upbeat Radiohead sound, where "Naieve Melody" meets "Nice Dream," followed by a wailing Dick Dale-esque guitar riff.
The thunder of the cavernous drums on "There, There" rattled the Tower's foundation, and it was followed by the roar of the crowd as the band exited the stage briefly to the cut and paste of "Airbag," which also employed the creative use of the halls slapback acoustics.
Both "House of Cards" and "Spooks" held their weight against heavy-hitting Radiohead classics. The dancy "Idioteque" saw Thom jumping around the stage maniacally as the sample heavy rhythm controlled his flinching movements. "Everything in Its Right Place" was another driving crowd pleaser, and the whole audience was clapping in time to its droning and pulsating rhythm of Phil Selway's metronome-accurate drumming.
The inclusion of yet another new song - "Bodysnatchers" - as part of the encore, was a bold decision on the band's behalf. The track is a strong contender as the heaviest Radiohead song ever (with the likes of "Electioneering") full of those classic Jonny Greenwood chops. "4 Minute Warning" another new song, reminded me of a sort of loose acoustic Beatles-esque "Hey Jude" type number, which saw the band encircling Yorke around his upright piano. The band ended the night with a more acoustic version of "Karma Police" that had the whole audience singing along.
Radiohead concerts are like religious experiences. Last night the sold-out Tower Theater was a temple of the gods. The spectators possessed by these musical messiahs from the otherworld. No one sits, even if there are seats. The whole show is like one long ovation that begins when the band comes onstage until the final notes are played. Well deserved for the band who managed to save the universe more than enough times.
AN HISTORIC SET-LIST:
01 You And Whose Army - Colin is dancing
02 The National Anthem
04 Open Pick
05 15 Step
06 Exit Music
07 Kid A
09 Arpeggi (Thom: "Anyone fancy dying on their feet tonight") (Street Spirit)
10 Street Spirit
11 Pyramid Song
13 House of Cards
16 Bangers N Mash
17 There There
19 No Surprises
21 Everything in its right place
['Ever and Ever' scrolling on the background screens]
22 4 Minute Warning
23 Karma Police