There were moments of brilliance throughout, and then there were moments that helped you realize, oh yeah, they are human. But nevertheless, when Thom Yorke dies he will lead the chorus in the choir of Heaven or Hell, whichever he chooses.
For stateside Radiohead fans, this tour has been a long time coming. It’s the British band’s first proper tour this side of the Atlantic since 2008, and hence their first time promoting last year’s album The King of Limbs here as well (not that the album needed any added publicity -- it hit #3 on the US Billboard charts and was one of the most widely listened to and reviewed albums of the year). Though many other bands would risk losing their popularity and relevance by skipping over an entire continent for four years, that was hardly a problem for Radiohead. In fact, it created more of a stir than you could have imagined. A majority of their shows -- including two dates at Coachella and about 30 others throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico -- sold out almost instantly. The performance at the 1STBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado became almost unattainable by human standards. The initial run of tickets sold out in less than ten minutes and third party ticket sites had listings for as high $350.00 apiece at times. The extended scramble for tickets ensued for nearly two months until, finally, many just gave up and others decided to empty their bank account, nervous that it would be another four years until they had the chance again.
And, aside from just a few missteps, the scramble was worth it. Though much of the night centered around newer material, the first ultimately memorable moment of the evening came about twenty minutes in with “The National Anthem” from 2008’s Kid A. Before the droning, distorted bass kicked in on this tune, singer Thom Yorke seemed like he was having trouble connecting with the rest of the band. At times he sounded pitchy, at others he was simply drowned out -- perhaps for reason of the early sound tweaking necessary to any show -- but after all the buildup and hype for the show, and the band, it was surprising to say the least, that the revered leader was not perfectly in sync with his chariot. But within seconds of Colin Greenwood’s rolling bass line, it was clear that the shaky portion of the show was over.
I was sucked into a trance of bass over red and blue seizure lights. Yorke danced, mouthing at the microphone even when he wasn’t singing, making tiny inaudible gasps, knowing the crowd couldn’t hear them but never giving them up, the essence of the song to him. The audience itself was practically silent, lost and drowning in the sea of somehow melodious cacophony, we didn’t know what to make of it, nor what to do, so we listened and watched the lights, equally entrancing as the music.
There were moments of brilliance throughout, and then there were moments that helped you realize, oh yeah, they are human. But nevertheless, when Thom Yorke dies he will lead the chorus in the choir of Heaven or Hell, whichever he chooses. No, Yorke is not superhuman, but his voice is one of perfection -- when he wants it to be. He creeps into a melody and latches on, bringing the energy up and up and up with a single note, never faltering or questioning, until it fades out and holds in your memory for what feels like all eternity, like during that night’s rendition of “Karma Police”. Though it was probably the band’s most popular tune played all evening, it was also one that seemed to lack the most energy for the band. But Yorke found the pocket and sat right in it until he jumped, allowing the crowd to subtly sing along.
“Street Spirit” ended the set only an hour after they had come on stage. It was a beautiful ending but I thought, “What the fuck?! They’re done?” It was unfair to the people who had been looking forward to this show for four years, unfair to those who took out second mortgages to see the show, and unfair to humanity. Ok, I took it a little far, but in my humble opinion headlining bands that only play hour long sets should be excommunicated and outlawed. It doesn’t matter if you’re U2 or Nirvana, you have to make your fans happy or you’ll be dropped like a cigarette on the corner of 42nd Street. Luckily, an encore was quite obviously planned, and with a second encore on top of that, the show stretched to almost twice the length.
“There, There” and “Everything in its Right Place”, both within that first encore, were certain highlights of the entire night, again transfixing the entire sold out audience of 6000 into an immovable state. A thrillingly acoustic “Give up the Ghost” opened the second encore before Yorke declared, “Now I want to tear shit up” and the full band launched into “Myxomatosis” from 2009’s Hail to the Thief.
I could try and sum up the rest of the songs by name, but it really doesn’t matter – and I don’t want to. Their show -- music coupled with an LED backdrop of flashing lights, moving images and video -- is perhaps one of the best performances out there, and that’s true despite the fact they don’t sound as perfect as they do on record and that at times you question if Thom Yorke should really say anything at all into the microphone. He and his band mates should probably let the music do the talking. The band is always on the cutting edge of both music and technology, ready to shatter boundaries but stay just close enough to the core to keep you enthralled. Their tear through this country will not come unwelcome, and certainly will not go forgotten.