Radiohead, 8/3/08

As rock ‘n’ roll continues to move away from an artistic outlet, the structure of a typical concert has likewise turned into a predictable cliché. The band comes out a half hour late and launches right into one of their biggest hits. After a couple more hits, it is bathroom time for a good percentage of the audience as a handful of songs from the act’s current album are foisted on an audience that just wants the radio songs.
Halfway through the show, we get the acoustic, sing-along mini-set, before the band goes back to the hits that concludes with whatever can be considered their “anthem”. The encores are more of the same, with the exception of a “surprise” cover or two. You know the moment the show is concluding when the lights come on during the band’s biggest hit.
Few of these conventions are present during a Radiohead performance. They play what they want when they feel it fits into the set, and their latest album is always the focus of the show. This was certainly true on August 3, as the second leg of the In Rainbows tour hit Indianapolis (well, actually Noblesville, IN).
Instead of the standard three or four songs from their most recent album, Radiohead performed the entire In Rainbows album (along with “Banger and Mash”, from the bonus disc that accompanied the box set version of the album). That’s a full 40% of the setlist, and outside of Kid A’s five tracks, no other album had more than three songs aired (and zero songs from their debut, Pablo Honey) .
For most bands, relying so heavily on new material could be a disaster. Not all bands are Radiohead, though. Arguably the most inventive band of our generation, Radiohead proved they are at the top of their game, and In Rainbows stands proudly with any of their earlier classic releases. None of the ten songs that comprise that release made the audience feel like they were missing out on better choices.
In fact, the band had their 18,000 fans from the opening notes of “15 Steps”, and kept their grip on them until they walked off the stage after “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. Everything flowed perfectly as they worked their way through electronic, acoustic, and more traditional rocker motifs…sometimes all in the same song.
Most surprising about the show, however, was the individual personalities of the band members. Since day one, all we’ve read is how they’re a bunch of sullen, insecure, withdrawn Brits with no sense of humor.
This couldn’t be further from the truth – each member has a distinct persona that was on display throughout the entire 135-minute show. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood is the electronics geek, just as likely to be fiddling with a synthesizer or theremin as he was with a guitar. Second guitarist Ed O’Brien may be the coolest guy in the world; suave and debonair enough that he could be the next James Bond.
Bassist Collin Greenwood plays the traditional role – an always smiling musician that is clearly happy to be traveling the world playing music. Meanwhile, drummer Phil Selway has obviously taken his cues from Stones drummer Charlie Watts – always steady but relatively anonymous. Together, this rhythm section is the unsung heroes of the band, maintaining a little bit of melodic and rhythmic structure as the two guitarists journey to the extremes to create new sounds.

Lead singer Thom Yorke, though, is clearly the driving intellectual force of the band. Yet he also displayed a sense of humor that surprised many. Early on, he cracked a joke about the corporate setting of the show – “if you’re looking for Kid Rock, you’re in the wrong place”. Later, during the quiet piano and guitar opening of “You And Whose Army”, a wildly intense use of a close-up of Yorke’s face on the video screens was interrupted by an eerie smile and a shot of his quintessentially British teeth.
The highlights of the show are too many to recount – the already-mentioned “You And Whose Army”, “All I Need”, and “Faust Arp” were memorable moments of the quieter segments of the show, while “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, “Just”, and “Bangers and Mash” ably represented the band’s rock edge. As for the more experimental tracks, “Ideoteque”, “Climbing Up the Walls”, and “Morning Bell” were frantic stabs at electronica that had everybody jumping around (almost) as much as Yorke.

Ok, who am I kidding? Almost every song could be described as a highlight, including “There There”, “Nude”, “How to Disappear Completely”, “Karma Police” (obviously a crowd favorite), and “The National Anthem”. I’ve seen a lot of shows over the years, but I can’t think of too many that rank above what I witnessed with my friends Jason, Andrea, and Gaz on a warm Indiana evening.


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