Halfway through Radiohead‘s Coachella-prep show at the 1stBank Center on Tuesday, the band settled into a surprisingly faithful “Karma Police” — and a strange thing happened at the smallish suburban arena. The fans went crazy at first, of course, but the familiar song seemed to have an adverse affect on the band.
Granted the Brits aren’t known for jazz-hands stage charisma, but the hit song came off like an unfortunately necessarily inclusion in a night of otherwise-boundary pushing live music. Frontman Thom Yorke wasn’t feeling the down-tempo jam from
2000’s 1997’s “OK Computer.” The band eventually gave in as the ever-building chorus of “This is what you get” became the night’s biggest (and most reluctant) singalong. The six-piece even seemed to sigh a contented sigh when it was over.
And so did some of us in the audience.
Before we go further with this: Tuesday’s set was a modern masterpiece, a vibrant and important clash of a genius-glitch catalog and the most technologically advanced lighting rig to ever hang from the 1stBank Center’s rafters. Radiohead is bringing its big guns on this tour — and they need to, since they’re headlining the first-ever two-weekend Coachella next month.
That said, the “Karma Police” happening revealed one of the band’s few weaknesses. When “OK Computer” was released, it was the band’s “weird” and “arty” album. And now, especially when held in comparison to recent releases “The King of Limbs” and “In Rainbows,” the song sounds traditional and dated — and almost anachronistic. It wasn’t bad on Tuesday night. But it was a low point in a show that had very few of them.
Not to nitpick. But it was a surprise. And the subdued energy in the arena — singalong be damned — told me that I wasn’t the only one who felt the disconnect.
The rest of the show was a lesson on how to bring it. Yorke, dressed in a leather vest with his hair tied back, guided his group along a windy road that covered nearly two decades of material. The new “Morning Mr. Magpie” was a massive highlight early on, and the band closed its set with “Street Spirit” off ’95’s “The Bends” — fade out, indeed.
The lights? It’s hard to explain. A giant, light-triggered backdrop filled the rear of the stage, and a long and horizontal screen topped the proscenium. And the panels — my God, the panels. The 12 panels/screens hung over the band in various formations and told a story. Close-ups of the guys, Yorke & Co. Instruments in and out of focus. Chaos in animation. They were wonderful and lovely — and likely a fetching peek at the band’s Coachella set.
Jittery. That word kept coming to mind as the group worked its way through a frenetic set of dance floor fillers — songs that put LCD Soundsystem’s live show to shame — and methodical almost-ballads. “There There” might be the best song in the band’s live catalog. Or maybe that’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” with its lemon-sucking references and self-sampled delights.
And we got both of them in the encore — the first encore, that is.
The second encore started with a hauntingly acoustic “Give Up the Ghost” — another new track off “Limbs” — and it was a stunning display of Radiohead’s ability to mix it up and make it work. Fast-slow-fast. Mellow-messed up-stark. They’re one of the biggest live acts in the world for a reason — and the lucky fans at the 1stBank Center on Tuesday night got an unusually intimate look at the magic as it unfolded.