How is it possible for a band as weird as Radiohead to be so huge? Everything about them — from their terrifying-looking lead singer to their complete lack of cheerful sing-a-longs — would seem to indicate a band with a pretty small niche audience. By some miracle, the talented intellectuals of Radiohead actually got recognized for their artistic conquests. The band was able to play to an instantly sold-out 1stBank Center this Tuesday night, with the only lingering question being why they didn’t play the Pepsi Center.
Seeing such a talented band, with such huge ambition, be given the space to flesh out their ideas was a unique experience in of itself. Rarely do you get the chance, in a venue that puts on the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry, to see a band that blends the psychedelic with the concrete so well, segueing from guitar shredding riff-anthems to polyrhythmic electro-ghost jams back-to-back.
So began Radiohead’s appearance, with the rhythmic, arpeggiating “Bloom” setting the dark but room-filling undertone for the evening. Although a sensible opener, being the first track off their newest release “The King of Limbs,” the song lacks the energy or mind-blowing capabilities of Thom Yorke and the gang’s finest work. It didn’t quite set an ideal starting pace for a concert of that high anticipation. It wasn’t until “The National Anthem” kicked in with its hooky bass riff and killer drum beat that the energy of the show really began to pick up.
After tearing through the jam at the end of “The National Anthem,” Yorke set his guitar aside for the first time in the evening for the weird, glitchy “The Gloaming.” On the record, the song stands as one of the band’s weaker tracks but with the pounding rhythms and Yorke’s absurd dancing the song took on a new, fascinating life. Towards the end, what was originally perceived to be a vocal screw up by Yorke was revealed to be a re-looping and re-layering of his voice over itself, courtesy of the recurrent sound smith of the night, Jonny Greenwood.
The remainder of the first set ebbed and changed with different vibes intertwining themselves throughout the evening. The group took on a Talking Heads-like funkiness with “Morning Mr. Magpie” before descending into new wave synth blasting on the new single “Staircase.” Then they threw out all the gloomy beat making in favor of a more heavenly transcendence on “Separator.”
After exploring weirder territories of the band’s style, the highlight of the first set emerged as the triple guitar attack of “Bodysnatchers.” Seeing the band perform a song this riff-heavy, yet subtly complex with such intensity, just stands as a reminder that above all the hype and genre bending credibility, Radiohead is a damn good rock band with an excellent ear for tonally experimental riffs.
Yorke and the fellows rounded out the first set with the fan favorite “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” to much applause before returning for the first of two encores. The first encore saw the band bringing out the guitar-heavy material first on the intricate “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” then the stadium-tearing “There There,” which built to an absolutely raging climax unlike any other live rock song I’ve ever seen in my life. At the end of “Everything In It’s Right Place,” Yorke’s vocals began to distort again as the band left the stage one by one leaving only guitarist Ed O’Brian at his laptop, creating a bizarre ambient trance track on his own, seemingly out of Yorke’s vocals, before he walked off and two roadies cut out the sound to black. If the show had ended here I would’ve been ecstatic enough. Rarely do I see in concert a band choose to end with a psychedelic fade out rather than a crowd pleasing anthem, but the finality and beauty of the piece brought the show to a new level of artisanship, upping it from just a rock concert to a carefully planned exhibit for the senses. And then they came out again.
The second encore, at three-songs long, brought about some of the most memorable moments of the entire concert, first with the peaceful strummings of “Give Up the Ghost” and then the grimy horror-rock beats of “Myxomatosis.” The band concluded the evening with the “Kid A” classic “Idioteque,” which began with simple computerized rhythms before building to a full-on assault of rave beats and flashing lights, a climactic ending to a magnificent show.
Concerts like this don’t come by very often, and as members of the audience filed out of the arena there was a presence in the air. What everyone had just witnessed was closer to a religious experience than just a fun night out. The aid of the unexpected but extremely well-done light show didn’t hurt either, with floating screens changing positions throughout the show, sometimes forming walls of imagery and other times surrounding the band. It was as if the floating squares were levitating off the ground and rising to the heavens.
Although it was not a perfect show, and there were several instances where the momentum of the evening was cut short so that the band could fulfill their artistic desires, as a concertgoer there is little else I could ask for from a live experience. There were moments of profound beauty, songs that broke down the building to four-on-the-floor dancing, and enough serious rocking out to satisfy any fan of the band’s pre-electronic period. If there’s one thing to be sure of from this show, it’s that as long as Radiohead is around, there is still a chance for large stadium shows to be a platform for boundary-challenging music that aims to inspire as well as enthrall.
Little By Little
Morning Mr Magpie
The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)
True Love Waits
Everything In Its Right Place
Give Up the Ghost
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.Goldner@colorado.edu.