Review: Radiohead perform in Portland for first time since 1996
On Sunday night, the sold-out Moda Center was packed with Radiohead fans of all ages for the group’s first Portland show since March 21, 1996. For reference, people born on that date are now juniors in college.
“What do you want? We were busy,” Thom Yorke jested of the 21-year interim. With a look of disbelief, guitarist Ed O’Brien flashed 21 digits with his fingers to the fans in the front rows. Without further words, Yorke struck the opening chords on his keyboard to “Everything In Its Right Place” from the group’s landmark 2000 album “Kid A.”
Yorke’s sentiment is an understatement; the lion’s share of the band’s work has been released in the last two decades. The band had only put out two albums, 1993’s “Pablo Honey” and 1995’s “The Bends” before its 1996 show at the now-defunct nightclub La Luna in Southeast Portland (which is now an upscale ramen restaurant). That set previewed what the band would sound like in its forthcoming Y2K-era albums with “Lucky” and “Electioneering.” They even closed with an encore with a cover of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.”
But Sunday night’s set, which clocked in at 24 songs and two-and-a-half-hours, captured an entirely different vibe, as this is surely an entirely different band: The night opened with “Daydreaming,” a transcendent track from last year’s “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Its hollow piano motif is cloaked with ambient electronics before pivoting into a circuitous, cosmic melody. Searchlights stretched from the stage and scanned every corner of the arena, ornamenting its ceiling with innumerable, crisscrossing lights.
As per request from the band to remain civil during the show, fans on the floor remained motionless for the song’s duration. Whether it was due to shock that Radiohead were actually in front of them, or the trance-like effect of the song, all night long people looked to the stage with a sense of wonder, respect and gratitude that is rarely seen at a concert.
Following “Daydreaming,” Yorke grabbed a guitar for “Desert Island Disk,” while drummer Phil Selway (who was joined by touring percussionist Clive Deamer, also known as Portishead’s drummer) hit his cymbals for a loose, imprecise rhythm.
The set featured six tracks from “A Moon Shaped Pool,” which spanned the emotional range of the doom-techno of “Ful Stop” to the sunken malaise of “Glass Eyes,” which marks the first time the song has been played in North America.
There were five from “In Rainbows” (2007), and some tracks pulled from the earlier catalog. During “15 Step” Yorke shook maracas and danced as though he were caught in an invisible sleeping bag, or like a sugar-rushed toddler who was given undiluted apple juice.
The set could easily have been twice as long and still been a spectacle. The breadth of amazing works in the back catalog makes the concert feel like a greatest hits compilation, which is maybe how every Radiohead show feels, regardless of the setlist’s combination.
“Kid A” was represented with “Everything In Its Right Place,” which closed with Yorke’s warbling voice crooning, “What was that you tried to say?” chopped, reversed and obliterated by a seated Jonny Greenwood and O’Brien sampling Yorke’s vocals in real time.
Greenwood plays with a versatile rig of hardware at his disposal, including a modular synthesizer to piecemeal together the convoluted rhythm of “Idioteque,” which culminated with a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms, computer bleeps, cascading guitar licks and a laser-gun sound effect.
During the tracks “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and “Weird Fishes (Arpeggi),” Greenwood played the ghostly, antiquated electronic instrument ondes Martenot, for which he used his guitar’s pegboard to press its keys.
Only two tracks from “OK Computer” (1997) made it in: “Airbag” and “No Surprises,” and just “There There” from “Hail To The Thief” (2003).
After the band disappeared completely from the stage, fans lit up the arena with cell phone flashlights, which turned the darkness into an eerily lit scene tailor-made for a Radiohead show. “That’s what fans are for,” Yorke said with a quick flash of a grin before playing “Glass Eyes” and “No Surprises.”
“Burn The Witch,” the orchestral opening track of “A Moon Shaped Pool,” features an agitated knotty bundle of violin bow sticks clacking against the strings (a technique called “col legno”) but since the stage lacked an orchestra, this version traded the violins for bass and frantically picked guitars which still carried the song to its swollen, panicked apex.
It’s a marvel to see that even during the most convoluted of tracks and despite the band members being yards apart and rarely communicating with one another, cues are hit perfectly. Each track and its manifold moving parts — electronic and organic melded together — are arranged precisely through the aggressive and the reserved tracks: the stressed tornado of sound of “Burn The Witch” gives way to a sudden silence; a lingering bass line closes the door on “Bloom”; the closing percussion that caps off “There There.”
The night closed with the self-loathing anthem “Creep” — the first time the band has played the 1993 hit on this tour.
“I want you to notice when I’m not around!” Yorke sulked to this Portland crowd, for the first time in two decades.
Suffice to say, we did.
- Desert Island Disk
- Ful Stop
- 15 Steps
- The National Anthem (with Hunting Bears outro)
- All I Need
- Street Spirit (Fade Out)
- Everything In Its Right Place
- There There
- Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
- I Might Be Wrong
18. Glass Eyes
19. No Surprises
20. Burn The Witch
22. Lotus Flower
23. You And Whose Army?
Follow Emerson Malone on Twitter: @allmalone
Craig Wright contributed reporting to this review.