Radiohead bass player Colin Greenwood told Rolling Stone that last Christmas the band decided to go on tour to try out their new songs “because otherwise we feared we would just go mad in Oxford.” Thankfully, the band managed to escape their hometown ennui and came to New York for two shows on their current tour. There were lots of adjectives running through my head as I watched the first of the shows. I knew that it would be hard to capture the emotion and the pure energy of what I was seeing.
The two hour concert showcased a band that continues to be on the cutting edge even though it’s been several years since they first rose to public acclaim. Radiohead stay in the forefront by constantly testing the boundaries, occasionally stepping over the line, but never retreating. In this way they have established an unshakeable credibility and have become perhaps the most respected band in the world among their peers as well as their fans.
People paid good money for a seat at this show, but they needn’t have bothered. From the opening moments of “You And Whose Army?” the sold-out house was on its feet and they never sat down again. The show itself was a mixture of old favorites like “The Bends” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” and the more challenging material from recent albums such as “Morning Bell,” “Kid A” and “How To Disappear Completely.”
One of the prime objectives for Radiohead on this tour is to play some of their new songs live, in preparation for their next album. That objective has been achieved, and if audience reaction to the new songs that they included in their set this night is any indication, the release of the next Radiohead album will be a cause for celebration. The new songs seem to indicate somewhat of a return to a more simple style, reminiscent of their earlier material, though the music is still very challenging, and the lyrics continue to resist facile interpretation. There were eight new songs played. The highlights for me were “Bangers N’ Mash,” “Bodysnatchers” and “Down Is The New Up.”
The entire band was in excellent form on this night. The simple stage set was more than compensated for by a brilliant lighting design that added just the right amount of drama to the proceedings. Thom Yorke was in fine voice, though that voice is not prone to much between-song commentary. One of the great delights for me was to see guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien sitting cross-legged on the stage playing with the various musical toys that were assembled there. The rhythm section, consisting of bass player Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway, provided the rock solid foundation that allows the band to explore new directions while maintaining an awesome groove.
Can a band with six albums behind them still be called the future of rock and roll? The live Radiohead leaves no doubt about the answer to that question. They rock ferociously while continuing to lead their audience in new musical directions. Their lyrics speak to the alienation that so many people feel these days, while the beat makes you want to move your feet. It’s the perfect storm.