Radiohead dug into its catalog to satisfy fans last night at the Sprint Center
With just nine non-Coachella U.S. dates on its schedule this year, Radiohead has made itself a precious commodity on the 2017 touring circuit. As of now, Kansas City is the band’s only Midwestern slot in the roster this year, and tickets to the performance sold out within two hours. (AEG did release dozens of seats for purchase in the days before the show; promoter seat-holding policies are a persistent annoyance, a digression for another time.) Hype was high — probably too much so for non-fans — but for those who love Radiohead, last night’s performance satisfied expectations and then some. The band dug deep into its vast catalog, pulling up rarities (including “Where I End and You Begin”) among a bevy of uptempo cuts that made the almost 150-minute show feel like half that length. I would do it all over again, twice.
The house lights went down promptly at 8:30 p.m., and the band slowly eased into the show (as it has for all of its 2017 dates) with three back-to-back songs from its 2016 release, A Moon Shaped Pool. During “Daydreaming,” beams of brilliant white light streamed over the band and then out into the crowd, as Thom Yorke’s gentle piano loops and moaning voice hung in the air. “Ful Stop,” with its deep, reverberating burps and hums, then kicked the show into a higher gear, where it would remain for most of the evening.
OK Computer‘s “Airbag,” featuing theremin-sounding wails from the circuitry of multi-instrumentalist and mad genius Jonny Greenwood (that is if the sounds didn’t emanate directly from his mind), got one of the biggest reactions of the evening. It was followed by a bouncy, maracas-and-Yorke-yelp-punctuated performance of “15 Step,” from In Rainbows, an album revisited frequently throughout the night.
Radiohead’s visual displays were not as intricate as they were during its 2012 Sprint Center King of Limbs show. That tour featured a wildly inventive series of interlocking, moving LED video squares. This time around, the band was backed by a large, concave oval LED screen, which interspersed live footage of the band with moody patterns and blasts of light. Yet while the visuals were less than thrilling, they were more than adequate. More important, the band’s energy on this outing was superior to its output during that last visit, and its setlist was more ranging and more fervently executed. While A Moon Shaped Pool and In Rainbows were the albums most heavily called upon, every record except Pablo Honey hit the rotation at least twice last night, a more than fair distribution.
The midsection of the performance was punctuated with a rousing and relatively rare airing of the bass-heavy, droning “The National Anthem,” a complex and ringing “Bloom” (with Greenwood’s floaty, freewheeling assistance on drums, a sound that should never work but always does), and the energetic one-two punch of “Identikit” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” For “Idioteque,” one of the band’s dozen or so sound techs brought out Greenwood’s signature modular synthesizer, suggesting that he was taking a break to connect a bunch of 1930s Ma Bell party lines. Throughout the song, Greenwood moved the unit’s “plugs” around, manipulating tones, beats and blips to complement Yorke’s rapid-fire vocal delivery.
Perhaps most exciting for setlist completists was “Where I End and You Begin,” a song the band hadn’t played live since 2008. The song builds from its bare bass and driving drum lines to include Yorke’s screeching guitar and his casually ominous recitation, I will eat you alive / There will be no more lies.
Yorke, as is typical, didn’t address the crowd much, save the odd halloo or thank you. Yet he did dedicate “Present Tense” to the women in the audience, presumably in light of having to live under a “grab them by the whatever” Trump administration. He then joked that he couldn’t really see many women — it being (of course) true that the GA crowd closest to him, who had lined up for a few hours prior to the show to secure the earliest entry, was predominantly young, white and male. The dedication could as easily have prefaced “2+2=5,” a song written about George W. Bush but almost more appropriate 17 years later (and missed last night).
After a short break, the band returned for the first of three encores with an exciting “Burn the Witch” (a song that was written about Trump), as well as two songs that depend on Yorke’s hypnotic vocal range: “Fake Plastic Trees” and a stunning version of “Nude.” Both songs highlighted Yorke’s still-keen abilities, and the band as a whole sounded well-oiled, clean and present, with no sign of weariness or boredom.
Radiohead closed with two audience favorites, including “Karma Police,” with the audience joining in to sing along with Yorke: Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself. “There There,” with its four sets of pounding drums and equally pounding mantra — Just because you feel it / Doesn’t mean its there — made for an unusual capstone (typically a night will end with “Paranoid Android”) but a wholly gratifying one.
A sold-out, heavily hyped show that turns out to be as memorable as you’d hope? Here it was: more than two hours of reward, with nothing in the 25-song set to complain about. It was there, and everybody felt it.
At least for now, you can watch the entire performance here.
Desert Island Disk
The National Anthem
All I Need
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
I Might Be Wrong
Where I End and You Begin (tour debut, first performance in nine years)
Give Up The Ghost
Burn The Witch
Fake Plastic Trees
You and Whose Army?