Having seen Radiohead‘s first two (of four) sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, I find myself conflicted. With wildly different sets each night and superb visuals, accompanying many of my favorite songs, the group completely knocked my socks off.
Radiohead’s current tour essentially supports their 2016 release, A Moon Shaped Pool, an album I realized I don’t know so well after hearing much of it featured in the two-plus-hour set each night. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying songs like “Ful Stop” and “Identikit” alongside numerous other tracks I’ve listened to over the past two decades (and repeatedly listened to again ahead of the shows). The group has a way of tweaking old songs, so they feel fresh against newer, more electronic material.
One of the more memorable moments from the first night was during the final encore ahead of “No Surprises”. Yorke prefaced the song by demurring to discuss politics (something he used to shoot off about a lot) but let the lyrics speak for themselves — the audience’s seething rage was practically tangible as he sang “they don’t speak for us”.
The slow-burning second night did allow periodic releases of energy. “There There” was powerful and perhaps the purest expression of rock Radiohead have right now. After that came the wobbly “Everything in Its Right Place” which brought down the house (and closed out the main set). This was also the night the group played “Spectre”, a once possible James Bond song, for the second time though it was primarily Yorke solo on piano.
Comparing the two nights, I found each show had an identity of its own. The first night (June 10th) felt more like a rowdy party or unruly school dance, as the band alternated between powerful, slower songs with aggressive, more twitch friendly tunes free form. The second night (June 11th) felt more slow-burning, however. Radiohead played a lot of brooding tracks, only sporadically reaching a thrashing level. That’s not meant as a complaint, however — I only want to emphasize how strong the band is at setting moods, creating spectacles and diversifying setlists. Seeing how little overlap there was at the first two shows, I feel like I must see them again. And again.
But even if I don’t, I also left the show(s) super thrilled to have seen Junun opening. This side project that Jonny Greenwood is involved in is lead by Shye Ben Tzur and includes the Indian musical group, the Rajasthan Express. The group (and their album Junun) were featured in a documentary film by Paul Thomas Anderson a few years ago. Their music, a fusion of world genres with flourishes of Greenwood’s electronics, isn’t something all palettes can tolerate but I find fascinating.
I found it even more interesting that a group that could easily have been a one-off passion project has taken the time to rehearse and to learn new (at least unreleased) material. From the photo pit, It was not a long set, but I was surprised to see the (admittedly hard-core fan base) audience on the rail really get into Junun’s rhythms. And it was great to hear them wrap up with the classic Qawwali song “Mast Kalander” (not on the album) with the Indian musicians coming to the front to rouse the audience. I hope this project continues to develop.
Radiohead (and Junun) continue to tour through July. Check out photos from the first night at MSG, a few videos (including Junun’s performance on Colbert) and their remaining North American dates below.
07/13/18 – New York, NY – Madison Square Garden
07/14/18 – New York, NY – Madison Square Garden
07/16/18 – Montreal, QC – Bell Centre
07/17/18 – Montreal, QC – Bell Centre
07/19/18 – Toronto, ON – Air Canada Centre
07/20/18 – Toronto, ON – Air Canada Centre
07/22/18 – Detroit, MI – Little Caesars Arena
07/23/18 – Columbus, OH – Schottenstein Center
07/25/18 – Cincinnati, OH – US Bank Arena
07/26/18 – Pittsburgh, PA – PPG Paints Arena
07/28/18 – Boston, MA – TD Garden
07/29/18 – Boston, MA – TD Garden
07/31/18 – Philadelphia, PA – Wells Fargo Center
08/01/18 – Philadelphia, PA – Wells Fargo Center