Radiohead concerts are generally acknowledged to be one-of-a-kind concert experiences, visual, aural, and emotional. For many of the die-hards who drove from Boston to the Comcast Center (formerly Tweeter) last night though, the concert started on a bad note before Thom Yorke and co. even hit the stage. For those who even were lucky enough to see them hit the stage, that is. Traffic was backed up so far along I-93 that many waited hours to get in, missing opener Grizzly Bear completely and often some of Radiohead themselves.
My motley crew (an interesting story in and of itself; read another member’s account here) at least made it before Radiohead. From the first notes of “Reckoner,” the thing most immediately apparent were the lights. Sure, the music was good and all, but the visual show alone was worth the ticket price. Dozens of long florescent lights hung from the ceiling, many going all the way to the floor, creating elaborate patterns and effects choreographed to each song. Not your mama’s florescent lights though, each one could light up as a whole, in sections, in dots, or any other pattern, like a long thin video screen. A youtube search for “Radiohead Mansfield” should show you exactly what I mean.
Anyone who predicted that they would eventually run out of ideas for that set-up was proven wrong. During the “It should be raining” line of “The Gloaming,” simulated blue rain drizzled over the stage. As Yorke opened “Videotape” singing about the pearly gates, glowing pillars shimmered into shape behind him. The lyrics and chorus to “Everything in Its Right Place” jerked across the lights in warped lettering (though, one critique: they spelled it “it’s” right place. For shame, Thom.)
Throughout all this two long horizontal screens flashed images behind the band, the lower one doing colors and effects while the upper showed split two-tone images of the band, too effects-heavy to be all that useful to those far away. No traditional stage lights could be seen, the band bringing their own environmentally friendly fixtures that looked like a fly’s eye, small beams dancing across the stage, interacting with the vertical rods. Taken as a whole, the visuals would have overwhelmed the music if the two weren’t so perfectly in synch.
I should preface the actual music analysis by saying, though I consider myself a fan, I was probably less so than 95% of the people there. The show was hit or miss for me musically, fascinating at times, headache-inducing at others. After the excellent “Reckoner,” the show got off to a slow start as less-than-memorable songs comprised the first half hour. Though inherently lively, “15 Step” seemed performed with minimal energy, as if the band was too tired to really get into the spastic rhythm and falsetto thrashings. “Kid A” into “Nude” was yawn-inducing, but “All I Need,” a song just as slow, finally picked things up as the band created a supple background that gave Thom nothing to hide behind. From there on, the energy and commitment to the playing never again faltered, as Yorke did his loose-limbed marionette jig across the stage, guitarist Jonny Greenword created his swirling dissonance without ever acknowledging the audience, and Phil Selway’s innovative drumming propelled along the quirky beats and jerky tempo.
An unlikely trilogy formed the set’s first high point. As the lights flashed red noise waves, the band thrashed out “The National Anthem” starting loud and building before crashing into dissonant meltdown, accompanied by a static break-down on the screens. Though all but impossible to stay on beat, the crowd tried, dancing and jumping around as the band did likewise. It collapsed into Yorke, on a piano snuck center stage doing the seizure light show, playing the irresistible “Videotape” chords, hypnotizing himself with the lullaby melody. The band finally averaged its spastic and melodic tendencies with “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” using the more conventional structure to bounce along as Thom built his faux-raps into a howl. After a run through the mediocre “The Bends,” an older song that sounded downright mainstream in the company of all the others, Greenwood took center stage to assist Yorke in a chiming acoustic guitar “Faust Arp,” Yorke cracking the night’s only smile when he flubbed a line.
The concert continued to cruise along on a pretty-high note from there. The lights were fun to watch, the band was focused, the sounds were strange but soothing. An encore came and went, but Thom came out for the second alone, sitting down at piano again for a song from his solo project The Eraser. Though many were not familiar with it, “Cymbal Rush” was an immediate highlight, the stripped-down sound a breath of fresh air after the intricate madness of the previous couple hours. If confused looks greeted that one though, a communal roar followed for the opening strains of “Karma Police.” Everyone quietly sang along to this rarely-played hit, swaying yet riveted to the stage. The mood abruptly ended as “Idioteque,” one of their best fast songs and a fan favorite, closed the night out in typical herky-jerky fashion. Though not my favorite band, Radiohead’s show combines music and the spectacle for a concert experience hard to rival.
All I Need
The National Anthem
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Everything In Its Right Place
Exit Music (For A Film)
House Of Cards
I Might Be Wrong
A Wolf At The Door
How To Disappear Completely