A Shrine to Radiohead
For many years now, Radiohead have been pushing their sonic horizons so far that we almost couldn't see them as they isolated their more human identity into electronic bleeps and unconventional rhythms. With such an emotional centre, even at their most mechanised, the Oxford quintet certainly know the power of anticipation, and after a long gestation period, they are now touring in support of their ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Naturally, it wouldn't be a Radiohead tour if it wasn't sparse and immediately sold-out. In a noble attempt at clamping down hard on touts, the band requested for a very strict ticket-purchase and pick-up policy at every gig, making for quite a bit of runaround in front of iron-fisted security at the door.
Once people were in, emotions ran high and fast. Performing on the second night of two at Los Angeles' The Shrine Auditorium, Radiohead emerged to a fervent crowd, and began their set with the opening track to their new record: the unsettling Burn The Witch rang through the 6,300-capacity venue as the band were totally swathed in deep red light and smoke.
They continued on with four more songs from A Moon Shaped Pool, before shifting moods for the raucous My Iron Lung from The Bends. In the past, Radiohead, and particularly frontman, Thom Yorke, have had a reputation for creating distance between them and their fans, but now it seems the previously-percevied demeanor of ennui has turned into emphatic liveliness. Yorke danced around the stage in his signature flailing fashion, and they all moved through the 24-song set, no longer performing their old tracks begrudgingly.
While Radiohead have been homing in on their own dimension for so long, it seems this incarnation is a sprawling and accessible example of how much they've innovated. Multi-instrumentalist, Jonny Greenwood, has for years been so submerged in soundtrack and orchestral endeavors that it is clear how his wide range of experimental abilities have leaked deep into Radiohead's body of work. Not enough that Greenwood would play with such vehemence, but during the show he also took a violin bow to his guitar, reminding the audience of his invaluable place in Radiohead as a limitless creator. With his hair covering his face for most of the show, Greenwood stayed busy, knelt on the floor twiddling buttons, effecting loops of Yorke's eerie vocals, or striking his guitar with enough force to dislocate his shoulder. Amidst such a hefty catalogue, Radiohead pushed through tracks from almost every album, and fans were revved up to hear Lucky from OK Computer, Pyramid Song, and Like Spinning Plates, from Amnesiac. Screens above the stage showed each band member separately or switched to geometric shapes and occasional strobes, creating a frenzied and entertaining visual experience.
Carrying their audience though a sought-after wave of emotions ranging from sadness, bitterness, anger, hopelessness, sometimes hope, but never complacency, Radiohead have been thematically warning us for two decades now that we are making some big mistakes. This impression felt quite befitting considering the current political state, but, even with their brand of inherently-English desperation, the minor chords still managed to uplift. Yorke noted" “You're fiiiiine. Everything's fiiiine.” We believe you, Thom.
Going from one heady band to another, Portishead drummer, Clive Deamer, helped the band conquer textural feats for some of their more rhymically-complex songs. For this tour, Phil Selway isn't even the only bald drummer in Radiohead! As if two solid percussionists wasn't enough, Jonny Greenwood sat down at a couple of drums during Bloom to add to the track's odd beat, making it one of the most unique, sprawling soundscapes of the evening.
While there is still a tone of despondency, mockery, and panic in their songs, such as the wall-shaking Idioteque, and the sludgy main-set-closer Bodysnatchers, Radiohead appeared still enthusiastic about their body of work as well as the bodies in the room. They returned for a five-song encore beginning with the finally-polished True Love Waits, a number which gave everyone in the auditorium a lump in the throat. In contrast, the crowd erupted into such 'unhingedness' at the breakdown of 2+2=5 from Hail To The Thief that people on the balcony could feel the structure's flexibility absorbing everyone's shock and excitement!
The first encore (yes, first) closed with forever-highlight, Paranoid Android, and called for immediate cheers at guitarist Ed O'Brien's first stroke of the cabasa. The band returned again for second encore opening with Airbag from OK Computer with it's underlying but distinct bass line from Colin Greenwood, who stayed tethered between the two drummers all night. They closed the entire evening with Reckoner from In Rainbows, as Yorke's falsetto and atmospheric guitar hit all corners of the room – a hauntingly beautiful way to prove all good things must come to an end.
With every highly-anticipated album and remarkable performance, Radiohead manage to deconstruct themselves and then reconstruct their weighty influence into a musical feast of catharsis for their hungriest fans. As they've demonstrated with such existential buoyancy and longing at The Shrine Auditorium on August 8th, 2016, “The future is inside us, it's not somewhere else.”
Words and Images Michelle Shiers (via Buzzbands.LA)