Radiohead deliver masterful performance

A review of Radiohead at the Comcast Center on August 13, 2008

, Staff Writer

Radiohead can do no wrong. For two and a quarter hours at the Comcast Center on Wednesday night every single song the band played was meticulously composed, delicately crafted, and wholly absorbing, holding the capacity crowd in rapt attention and leaving concertgoers wondering how any band could be this good.

For all the talk of Radiohead’s alienating music, much of the night’s selections were warm and inviting, starting with show opener "Reckoner" and its gentle groove. The stage, adorned with LED stalactites and fixed-field video screens which resembled security cameras, glistened and glowed along with the music.

The lights played a big part in the show as they transitioned alongside the music perfectly, always reflecting and amplifying the tone to the point that Radiohead was not just the five men on stage but one stage sized entity. The band continued establishing an easy groove over the tribal stomp of "Optimistic" and the more aggressive "There There", then abandoned the organic feel as skittish green lights accompanied the electronic beat of "15 Step". Bass player Colin Greenwood led the crowd in clapping, which happens at most summer shows, but in a rhythm much more complex than just downbeats.

"Kid A" was up next, and hearing Thom Yorke’s vocals forwards instead of backwards transformed the song from strange to beautiful. "Nude", delicate and shimmery, provided a nice show for Yorke’s one of a kind voice. The band stayed sounding pretty for "All I Need", although this time they brought back their typical undercurrent of menace, which in this case resided in Colin’s foreboding bass line. The menace was brought to the fore on "The Gloaming", another twitchy electronic track that featured digital toxic-green rain during the line "It should be raining" and a welcomed Yorke dance freak-out.

While "The Gloaming" threatened the easy vibe that had been established, the overload of "National Anthem" blew it to pieces. From the laser show / police siren light jumble to the noises coming from Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, everything was spinning away from the center of Colin’s bass and Phil Selway’s drums, which were desperately trying to hold everything together. The song was a juggernaut but was tempered immediately and perfectly by "Videotape", a gentle-ish ballad that was accompanied by vertically moving lights that created a sense of weightlessness fitting for the image of "the pearly gates."

Yorke dedicated the next song to "everybody up on the hill" and Radiohead acted like a proper rock band for "Jigsaw Falling Into Place", absolutely nailing it then keeping the rock band thing going on for "The Bends". Taken at a touch slower tempo the song exploded much better to the delight of everyone in attendance. The Jonny and Thom acoustic duet "Faust Arp" made for a nice moment even when Thom lost the words to the first chorus, and the song sounded like a weirdly updated version of The Beatles’ "Blackbird".

"Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" was justified by its outro, which showed just how far the band has stretched the boundaries of their moments of rock since The Bends, and "Everything In It’s Right Place" proved how far they have pushed the boundaries of all music. With its four on the floor bass drum, 10/8 time signature, manipulated sounds and vocals, and undulating pale purple lights, the song was an unlikely candidate for dance party starter, but that’s exactly what it became.

The night’s first song from OK Computer came in the form of "Exit Music (For a Film)" which was spot on, but the whole band payoff could have been just a bit bigger judging by the size of some other songs, for example "Bodysnatchers", which followed at full-tilt the entire time and led into the first encore break.

When the band reemerged Yorke announced, "This is a love song," then proceeded to play the carefully orchestrated "House of Cards", with all of its bizarre sounds fitting in place like it was being played by a symphony. The setlist surprise of the night was Amnesiac‘s "I Might Be Wrong" and its stretched, distorted fragments being pulled along by Yorke’s constant tambourine. Radiohead followed up the deep cut moment with "Paranoid Android", which was nothing short of the best song of a generation being played by the best band of a generation.

"Wolf at the Door" proved to be a great comedown song even while it grew into its own sizable proportions. An electric blue glow took over the stage for "How to Disappear Completely" as the band gave the song a much more human touch than they did on Kid A, creating one of the night’s special experiences.

Another encore break was ended when Yorke took to the piano for a solo version of "Cymbal Rush" from his solo album The Eraser, which became an insistent piano ballad apart from the album’s electronic noodling. The rest of the band came back for a take on "Karma Police" that was a little bit nicer, a little more reliant on piano than guitar. The song was a little bit subdued and it would have been in keeping with the rest of the show to end on that note, but Radiohead decided to up the ante with "Idioteque", which was a little bit more relaxed than normal, everything swathed in pale yellow and faded green, before the band went crazy with noise and the screens spazzed into oscillating black and white, everything looking and sounding like a complete meltdown. It was glorious.

Radiohead are without rival, in fact, they’re playing a different game than everyone else. The crowd was completely comfortable to let that music wash over them, confident that the band was in control after seven albums of building trust, and no one was let down. The best band on the planet delivered a show worthy of their title, one that was different than shows they’ve played in Boston before and one that will surely be different from the next time that they come here, one that put on display all aspects of the band’s catalog and showed just how one band can make so many different types of music but all of it amazing. Radiohead can do no wrong.

Leave a Reply