As Radiohead indulges in the least accessible sound of their career, they seem to just be getting more and more popular. Serving both as electronic pop group, and background fodder for corporate clients and frat dudes in hats, Radiohead has nestled into a niche some artists would envy, and others would pity. Regardless of an outsider’s stance on the band, they seem to be doing exactly what they want on records and doing it well. Live is another story, what with playing to arenas with demands to be met from casual fans who might only know their major works.
Radiohead ought to take the high road by completely ignoring their back catalog, making a full-on Animal Collective move, only playing their latest yet unrecognizable songs. The band’s energy reached top levels when playing songs that are not yet released. It’s reassuring that the group’s newest material can still light a fire inside them as the members reach middle age. There’s no reason for them to pull out a “Karma Police” or god forbid a “Creep” if they’re just going to phone it in (no Greenwood on switchboard reference here) like they did to the former last night. Very rarely on anything pre-“In Rainbows” did it seem like they really wanted to play those songs rather than they felt an obligation to cover their bases with the shortest interruption possible. It didn’t take too much away from the main focus, showcasing their latest “The King of Limbs” and some songs expected to find a home on future releases.
“Staircase” and “The Daily Mail” back-to-back brought the show to life early on, with the latter giving the band a chance to turn the guitars up to “The Bends” levels without even having to dip into that material. Two tracks from my favorite Radiohead record “Hail to the Thief”, ”Myxomatosis” and “The Gloaming” came up next. “There There” from this record was played later in the set, and all three “HTTT” tracks felt more restrained than usual. It would be nice to see them try something new on these songs they have been playing for over ten years at this point. It would probably also make it feel like less of a chore for them.
“Supercollider” and “Give Up the Ghost”, in the first and second encores respectively, were two more highlights coming near the close of the show. “Supercollider” with its frantic pacing and paranoia like Radiohead does best, and “Give Up the Ghost” in its stripped-down yet so hungry-sounding state, both showed two sides of the great twenty-sided die that is this band in 2012. When sic’ed on a style, they always prove themselves worthy of working outside of what the suit and tie crowd expects. Seeing Radiohead in 2012 is like going to a professional sporting event; the fanatics are overbearing, the majority of the crowd is seemingly there just to have dull conversation throughout, and people lose their minds for the classics, even when they don’t play as well as they once may have. You are constantly caught trying to convince yourself you have got something so many of these suckers don’t: relevance. Rest assured, you can still enjoy the performance guilt-free as long as you are there more for the music than the camaraderie, and still willing to leave during the mediocre “Reckoner” to catch that good 11pm NJ Transit back home.
No matter how many times you readjust that faux-radio signal.
SETLIST FOR 05/31/12:
- 15 Step
- The Daily Mail
- The Gloaming
- Morning Mr. Magpie
- Lotus Flower
- There There
- Karma Police
- You and Whose Army?
- Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
- Everything In Its Right Place
- Give Up the Ghost
- The National Anthem