Radiohead in Tampa 2/29/12: Drums not dead
Mrs. Lo and I headed to Tampa yesterday to catch the second show on Radiohead’s North American tour. This would be the third tour I’ve seen them live and they always put on a phenomenal show but I was especially curious this time around since the album they were supporting, The King of Limbs, isn’t exactly the stuff that massive arena shows are built around. Plus, at my advanced age I’m always a bit skeptical about going to rock shows held in hockey arenas. It does, though, lead to some interesting juxtapositions.
We were able to get floor seats (general admission) through the Radiohead website pre-sale, but fortunately for us we weren’t particularly concerned with getting as close to the stage as possible, because by the time we got there an hour before show time the GA line was a couple of thousand people long and stretching around the arena and down the street. We walked past that line of diehards, some of whom had claimed their tickets and place in line much earlier that afternoon, went to grab a bite to eat at the Marriott across the street, met up with our friends Nick and Molly just before showtime and walked into the arena and down to the floor.
After a pretty good set from openers Other Lives, Radiohead hit the stage around 8:45 one a stage that was bathed in a constantly changing lights and colors with King of Limbs opener, Bloom. The stage setup featured a series of shifting screens in front of an amazing LCD display; taken together it was one of the most impressive stage shows I’ve ever seen. Deceptively simple, but an extremely entertaining complement to the band’s performance. We started the show off about halfway up the floor, but quickly fell back to near the sound board to better take in the visuals. Good choice on our part indeed. Unfortunately, my poor, washed out photos don’t really do the stage setup justice, but they’ll give you an idea at least.
Two things were obvious from the offing: 1.) this was not going to be a favorite show of those who don’t like the band’s post Kid A output. The opening set was taken almost exclusively from The King of Limbs and In Rainbows, so anyone hoping to hear multiple tracks from OK Computer and The Bends was going to be to left wanting. 2) the band was intent on playing to the back row of the arena and the operative word of the night was PERCUSSION. Portishead drummer Clive Deamer joined the band to fill out some of the intricate rhythms of the King of Limbs tracks, but was just as often deployed as a muscular, blunt force addition that gave tracks like Myxomatosis (still the best song ever named after a deadly disease in rabbit) an added boost that transformed it into thumping cousin to Kid A’s The National Anthem. The approach also elevated my least favorite track from King of Limbs, Morning Mr. Magpie, which became a real punk stomper with the twin percussive propulsion.
Drums were so much the word of the night that during There There there no less than 4 drum kits on stage. This added muscle wasn’t always so successfully wielded, however, as the percussion completely overwhelmed the intricate guitar playing on Bodysnatchers, and it is never a really good idea to hear less of guitar wizard Jonny Greenwood’s work. A minor misstep but a misstep nonetheless.
Another thing that became obvious pretty quickly was that this was a band brimming with confidence and having a great time plying their trade. Thom Yorke, bearing a striking resemblance to Mick Fleetwood with a vest and ponytail, danced and shimmied and worked the crowd with a large grin on his face more often than not. While he’s never going to be the most talkative front man, it was striking change from the miserable, pained Yorke so often on display back in the 90s. The confidence that the band exuded was palpable: the vibe of a band that has a live show second to none and the talent to play just about anything they wanted. You want intricate, flamenco-influenced dance tunes? Here’s Bloom and Staircase. Electronic, thumping rave ups? How’s Idioteque and Everything In It’s Right Place treat you? Slinky, funky dance numbers? All I Need and OK Computer era instrumental Meeting in the Aisle will fit the bill. Oh yeah, and piano-driven sing-along ballads that must make Chris Martin sob with inadequacy? The Daily Mail and Karma Police. It’s the kind of confident “we can play any style you want and do it well” vibe that reminded me of listening to London Calling by the Clash for the first time and it’s a heady thing to witness in person.
After nearly 2 hours of the music, the band finished by finally dropping a couple of tasty morsels from their early catalog, the aforementioned Karma Police, and, most unexpectedly, Bends closer Street Spirit (Face Out) to bring the night to an end. The crowd lapped both tracks up, singing along with full throat, and it was powerful reminder that, behind all the electronics and dense layers, Radiohead has written some of the best guitar pop ever, and, if they want to, can do it again. If they feel like it.
Some video from the show that has popped up on YouTube already. Immerse your soul in the love. (Credit to the tapers.)
Meeting in the Aisle
There, There (bang a drum or four)
Pyramid Song (so, so good)
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (“Weird Fishes! Weird Fishes! Whoooooo!”)