Mr. Greenwood and Mr. O'Brien laid aside their guitars to squat at analog consoles, precisely shaping noise. In similar fashion Mr. Selway blended his drumming with various electronic beats, erasing the distinctions between them.
Radiohead Remains Suspended Between Extremes
Half a dozen songs into Radiohead's show on Tuesday night in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Thom Yorke rolled out a new lyric rooted in allegorical imagery. "When I'm at the pearly gates," he sang, "this'll be on my videotape." Then, in his next breath: "When Mephistopheles is just beneath /And he's reaching up to grab me."
The language was evasive, cryptic and archly literary, and the tone was ambiguous and anxious. In other words, it was a characteristic effort by Mr. Yorke. But within that haze there was the hard glint of something: a notion that heaven could be mediated by technology, and that even in paradise, peril was not far behind.
That's not what you'd call a standard crowd-pleasing sentiment. But dystopian unease is to Radiohead what tumbling surf is to Dick Dale, and there were as many cheers for "Videotape" as there were for six other brand-new songs. Judging by the applause, it's safe to say that much of the audience was already familiar with this still-unreleased material from the currently unsigned band. Tracks have been surfacing on the Web, thanks to technology a bit more advanced than videotape, since Radiohead began its current tour last month in Europe.
There was another, more important reason for the crowd response: "Videotape" was a gripping piece of music. It began austerely — Mr. Yorke's quavering voice, a few major chords on the piano, a backward-processed guitar — and gradually assumed the dimensions of a rock song. Its crescendo had a sense of lift and motion; surrendering to it felt like being pulled downstream.
Radiohead's last album, 2003's "Hail to the Thief," was widely understood as a reconciliation of the band's warring instincts. Ostensibly it was a return to guitar-driven rock after a pair of keyboard-heavy releases, "Kid A" and "Amnesiac," that bent toward the ambient and abstract. But Tuesday's concert supported the band's conviction that it could be omnivorous, letting each side bleed into the other.
The new songs themselves were vivid proof. "Bangers and Mash" had a noisily aggressive thrust, the combined result of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien's interlocking guitars, Colin Greenwood's bass and an unrelenting drum part doubled by Phil Selway and, on a spare trap set, Mr. Yorke. As a rock tune "Bodysnatchers" was even better, especially as it roared into the chorus. (It was also amusing to hear Mr. Yorke keening the line "I have no idea what I am talking about.")
Sound has supplanted technique for the musicians in the band; or to be more precise, the manipulation of sound has effectively become a technique in itself. On more than one tune Mr. Greenwood and Mr. O'Brien laid aside their guitars to squat at analog consoles, precisely shaping noise. In similar fashion Mr. Selway blended his drumming with various electronic beats, erasing the distinctions between them.
But it was Mr. Yorke's voice that inevitably carried the music, and one striking thing about the concert was how often he let his notes loose without guttural strangulation. That's one reason why "Nude," a new ballad, was gorgeous; during one soaring falsetto note the band faded out, and the effect was angelic.
Of course the intent was exactly the opposite. Mr. Yorke's last words in the song were, "You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking." Once again he was suspended between extremes. And he seemed to revel in it, along with everyone else.