Posted by: buggy | 25 June, 2006

Radiohead Live@The Tower Theatre

The Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA, 1st June 2006

The first image we saw of Thom Yorke at the Tower Theatre was not the man himself, but his face projected in eerie digital black-and-white on the bank of rhomboidal screens that served as Radiohead's backdrop. Singing "You and Whose Army?" he mooned for the cameras, which fragmented his features across the 10 screens. It was about what we've come to expect from Yorke and Radiohead in general: humanity at a remove, filtered through cold technology, deadened by dystopian paranoia, and promising a detached performance.

After striking the final chords of that Amnesiac track, the Radiohead frontman emerged from behind an upright piano to shrieks and applause. This Thom Yorke remained front and center throughout the remainder of the two-hour show, fronting a band that played to the crowd, coming across as warm showmen, complete with a dizzying array of instruments– from floor toms to harmonicas to whatever it was that Johnny Greenwood cooked up. Yorke even sported an Oxford knit shirt– black, of course. And the screens faded into the background, capturing the musicians in action but keeping the focus exclusively on the music instead of visuals.

Radiohead played tunes from throughout most of their career, running through "The National Anthem", "Idioteque", and "Myxamytosis" with an emphasis on Colin Greenwood's tectonic bassline and Philip Selway's snare-heavy drumbeat, which combine into a tense rumble that pushes along the guitars, piano, and vocals. This emphasis on rhythm has prevented Radiohead from buckling under their pretensions; on stage, it gave these songs a torrential rush, almost physically compelling the audience to dance.

Still, as tight as the band was, its performance occasionally seemed a little contained. The members switched out instruments after each song, which dulled the show's momentum, and "Street Spirit" and "Pyramid Song" were lackluster, never reaching the big moments they threatened to build toward. If these songs tended to be too precise– everything in its right place, ahem– the new songs were looser and less assured, but more spontaneous. Nearly a third of the 23-song setlist was comprised of new tracks. Actually evoking its title, the familiar "Nude" proved the band can do sensuous just as easily as numb, but "House of Cards" sounded almost like easy listening Radiohead-style. Faster numbers fared better: "Spooks" was a quick rush of inverted surf guitar riffs, and Radiohead made "Bangers and Mash" a crowd favorite, especially when Yorke jumped on a second drum set and began playing along with Selway while he sang. They could have ended on that note.

Remarkably, the audience responded to these new tracks, suggesting that even if Radiohead wanted to distance themselves, their fans wouldn't let them. The diverse audience– which ranged from young hipsters to crazy frats to a charmingly drunk middle-age woman who gyrated energetically throughout the show– cheered when Yorke mumbled into the microphone, strapped on a guitar, or danced around the stage (plus, he's a game dancer, his goofiness kinda charming). They shouted, "We love you, Phil!" several times and made the obligatory song requests, which ran the gamut from "Stop Whispering" to "True Love Waits". They clapped along with the opening of "Everything in Its Right Place", danced to almost every fast number, and sang rapturously to show closer "Karma Police"– which was actually a little disturbing considering the cynical violence of the lyrics. Still, even if the crowd's excitement didn't necessarily fuel the performance, the band obviously took notice of the reactions its music inspired. Yorke's wide grin as he waved goodbye didn't look practiced in the least. It punctuated the moment and served as a lingering reminder of how great it is to have them back.

You And Whose Army
The National Anthem
Open Pick
15 Step
Exit Music
Kid A
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Pyramid Song
House of Cards
Bangers and Mash
There There

Encore #1
No Surprises
Everything in Its Right Place

Encore #2
4 Minute Warning
Karma Police

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