10 May, 2008

Radiohead @ Lakewood Amphitheatre

Thursday, May 8, 2008, Atlanta welcomed Radiohead back to Lakewood Amphitheatre. Twenty thousand fans from the city and entire Deep South filled the venue to capacity. Radiohead crowds, I think it can be safely said, are almost as interesting as the show. First of all, there is a sense of community for the most part. Everyone there knows that you are there for the same band they are. They know that you are most likely passionate about your fanhood of the band, and they realize that they carry the same sentiments. Conversations ensue in the anticipation and through the opening act(s) set. That's not a knock on the talent or abilities of these bands, but it's very hard to open for a band with such a huge cult following. Everybody from frat boys/sorority girls to hippies to dance kids and everything in between turn out. But the way in which people enjoy the music once the show starts is purely personal. The forecast was for an 80% chance of rain, and heavy rain at that. But the showers stayed away for the most part with only a few short bursts of steady rain.

Liars, the only opening act of the night, took the stage at about 7:15 and played for about forty minutes. I have to admit I really didn't pay much attention, but I can say that the band had a fairly poor sound mix. The vocals really overtook the rest of the music, and the bass could have been louder. Their sound is a heavier rock style with a drum machine, sparse keys, and some samples. Jonny Greenwood did join the band onstage for one song and played bass.

Radiohead took to the stage at just after 8:30 when it was sufficiently dark enough to highlight their accompanying light show. The main apparatus consisted of six vertical light bars that lit in a variety of colours and styles. Behind that was a huge projection screen onto which mostly vibrating or rotating shapes were projected onto the top and bottom with a widescreen view of all five band members through individual cameras across the middle. Between each of the vertical bars were shimmering light fixtures arranged across the stage to form the points of a "M" shape. There was also a banner of lights spanning the entire top of the stage. The large permanent screens to the sides of the stage at Lakewood were not used at all, a surprising move but by no means an error as the light show proved to be more than sufficient.

The band opened with "All I Need" from their newest album In Rainbows. It was an interesting choice for an opener as it is a very melancholy and introspective song. Then again, it is Radiohead. "There There" followed to the delight of the crowd, and the pace picked up from there. The most captivating string of songs of the night began about half an hour into the show, as the band played "Nude", "Pyramid Song", "Optimistic", "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", "The National Anthem", and "Idioteque" consecutively. With the crowd whipped into a frenzy by this point, the camera focused on Thom Yorke alone as he sat at the piano and began to play "You and whose army?". Only a single view of Thom remained on the projection screen as he sang to and interacted with the crowd until the last third of the song when the rest of the band joins him in playing. The screen then slowly stretched to its full length once more with five views of Thom at the piano before slowly morphing back into a single view once more at the end of the song. Thom winked at the crowd just before the screen went black for the next song transition. The band closed their main set with "Bangers and Mash", a song the band has been playing live for three years now but only made it into the discbox version of In Rainbows' extra CD, "Bodysnatchers", and "Videotape". The band returned for a first encore that included the only two pre-OK Computer songs of the evening, "Just" and a rare track recorded after The Bends titled "Talk Show Host". After a five song first encore, the band returned again to play the highlight song of the night, "Paranoid Android". It was accompanied by an angrily flashing red, white, and blue light scheme, and was by far the hardest rocker of the night. The band then bid Atlanta adieu with "House of Cards".

All told, this show was definitely a highlight of Radiohead's more intricate and ambient works. They played nine of the ten songs on In Rainbows (only omitting "Jigsaw Falling into Place" much to my chagrin), and five of the ten songs on Kid A. Here is the full setlist:

01 All I Need
02 There There
03 Lucky
04 15 Step
05 Where I End And You Begin
06 Nude
07 Pyramid Song
08 Optimistic
09 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
10 The National Anthem
11 Idioteque
12 You and whose army
13 Reckoner
14 Everything in its right place
15 Bangers and Mash
16 Bodysnatchers
17 Videotape
encore 1
18 The Gloaming
19 Talk Show Host
20 Just
21 Faust Arp (Thom & Jonny on electric)
22 How To Disappear Completely
encore 2
23 Paranoid Android
24 House of Cards

After roughly 18 years of playing together, it's hard to argue with anything these guys do onstage. They are masters at reproducing their material live, and very effective in the little tweaks they make here and there to build continuity between the songs. Thom's voice is showing signs of aging, but only slightly as it still cuts through you like a knife. Phil Selway doesn't always get as much credit as he should, but he is a phenomenal drummer and his understated style is allowed to come more to the fore in live performances. Jonny, Colin, and Ed are all as good or better than they ever were. This was a great show that will not soon be forgotten by those in attendance, and is by far the best concert I have seen so far this year.

Radiohead performance rating (out of 5): 4.9

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