RADIOHEAD, WHITE RIVER AMPHITHEATER, AUBURN, WA
It was cold and fairly damp outside when Radiohead took the stage last night at the White River Ampitheater. And perhaps that's what accounts for an opening that felt just a little sluggish. The band opened with "15 Step" and "Reckoner," two songs off their new album "In Rainbows." While the performances were competent, there just wasn't the passion one associates with a Radiohead show.
This problem was remedied by the time they played "All I Need" about five songs into the set. The ice had melted, the band was warmed up, it was going to be a good night.
Radiohead have been playing together for the better part of two decades, and they have developed an acute sense of how their music should be presented live. Over the years, their shows have increasingly used breathtaking state-of-the art lighting to frame their performances. This year the band employed dozens of LED lighting columns suspended from the ceiling. At times they would make the stage look like a cathedral. Sometimes they could make it appear as if the ceiling was melting (that's right, druggies, you wasted your money, it did that for all of us). And other times, well, it might be best to check out this one minute clip of "National Anthem" performed at a recent show in the Midwest. (the last 10 seconds or so are a good indication of what this lighting set up is capable of.
But all the high tech wizardry didn't overwhelm the band or the music. From Wednesday's performance, it is still obvious that Radiohead is the best band performing today.
The band played "In Rainbows" in its entirety, along with a seemingly random smattering from their previous six albums. Radiohead mixes up their set list each night, so you never know what you're going to get ahead of time. While it was a pleasure to finally hear a more obscure tune like "Talk Show Host" live, I would have traded in a song or two from "Hail to the Thief" or "Amnesiac" in order to hear more than one song from "The Bends."
These are minor quibbles when you consider just how stunning "National Anthem," and "Idioteque" were last night. And then there's "No Surprises." It is one of the saddest and most beautiful songs ever recorded and they haven't been performing it much during the last few tours. Last night they did. Gave me chills.
The moment that will most likely make the biggest impact on the Internet was last night's performance of "Faust Arp." The song was intended to be one of the quieter moments of the night, with only Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood on stage playing acoustic guitars. But Yorke messed up the lyrics, and the duo broke out into some song I didn't recognize. Moments later, they tried again, and Yorke still couldn't get the lyrics right. This time he simply said "f--- it" and continued with the song. The crowd, of course, ate it up.
The guy standing next to me said, "wow, Thom's actually human." Good to know.
(The photo above is of Radiohead's Chicago show earlier this month. It comes from this guy's Flickr photostream. He's got some excellent pictures from that show and I highly recommend you check them out.)