Wednesday, April 11, 2012
HP Pavilion, San Jose
Better than: The way you will dance to weird rhythms when you are 43 and have two kids.
Maybe "dancing" isn't quite the right word for it, but whatever you want to call that moving thing Thom Yorke does to the music Radiohead makes these days, let's all be really grateful that it happens. Onstage in San Jose last night, Yorke stopped his jigging, bouncing, and limb-shaking only when seated behind a keyboard or saddled with a guitar. The rest of the time, his jester-like figure -- curt ponytail, scraggly beginnings of a beard, comical skinny red pants, plain vest -- fluttered around like a bird that had just eaten a jumping bean.
This movement is important, because it tells you where Yorke -- and by extension Radiohead -- are at. After the general loathing of the OK Computer era, and the isolated gloom of Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke (and the band) seem to have found their footing in The Beat. Last night in San Jose, The Beat was a prism through which Radiohead focused many of its best songs, including, of course, selections from that rhythm-heavy new album, King of Limbs.
When the recorded versions of songs didn't have beats, like "Everything in its Right Place," Radiohead added them (in that case, a four-on-the-floor pulse!) -- demonstrating in the process that this really is a band best experienced live. And the complex rhythms that underpin some more recent songs got a full-throated airing onstage, with two drummers and times when even more band members found something to bang on. So "Lotus Flower," the King of Limbs single whose video is basically Yorke doing his freak-dance for some five minutes, was just immensely satisfying -- far more visceral and heartfelt than the cold recorded version would lead you to believe. (And of course Yorke jerked around like mad throughout the song.)
Radiohead demonstrated its rock side, too: We were treated to a seemingly rare airing of "Planet Telex," and a swooning, piano-heavy take on "Karma Police" that foregrounded Jonny Greenwood's piano work. (The fans were so elated for that one that they continued singing the refrain after the song had ended, and Yorke responded hilariously by gesturing at them as if he was conducting a symphony.) Meanwhile, "Myxomatosis," a regular in setlists on this tour, recalled 1990s Nine Inch Nails; and "I Might Be Wrong" -- prefaced onstage by the thrilling sound of Greenwood tuning his distorted guitar down to a drop-D -- felt like the perfect middle ground between Radiohead's rock past and its beat present: Nearly everyone around me was moving to the rhythm, but many were also making that scrunched-up face people make when electric guitars are producing loud, snarling, rawk sounds.
So yes, this was a pretty great concert even as far as Radiohead shows go: A goods-delivering setlist (see below), an attentive audience, and a jolly-seeming Yorke, who was either totally clueless about his whereabouts, or just thought that asking "Where am I?" in a patronizing tone over and over again might encourage the San Jose fans to move somewhere more memorable. In between rhetorical put-downs, though, Yorke was downright chatty, calling out a few song names, rambling on in nearly unintelligible British about the half-forgotten origin behind "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy," and joking that new song "Identikit" was "freely available on YouTube, as are many things." What a dryly profound wit this art-jester had!