Thom Yorke and Company, Kicking Off a Tour With a Lush Miasma
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Radiohead played the first concert of its North American tour here at the Cruzan Amphitheater on Monday night, and nobody onstage was tan. “We’ve just spent the last three days in Miami Beach,” said Thom Yorke, the band’s lead singer, looking incredulous. “What’s going on there? Some kind of reconstruction. For once I was proud to be white, pale and English.”
It sounded as if he were talking about plastic surgery, of which you might guess he takes a dim view. There’s a line in a recent Radiohead song, “House of Cards”: “The infrastructure will collapse.” Could be about unstable marriages; could be about roads and bridges; could be about human bodies and their augmentations. What is a Radiohead song not about, at least by extension? Mr. Yorke’s lyrics tend to start inside, with a particular ache or a feeling of dread, and then move outward, toward a disturbing image or forebodings and predictions: of another ice age, of hurricanes, of violence.
Radiohead’s music often also feels broad, looming and nonspecific, a growing wash of three-guitar harmony and rhythmic texture that hits sweet or sickly spots and subsides. Somewhere in that spectrum, quite possibly, is something you’ll like. Its members are human-condition musicians; they’re universalists.
But in many ways Monday’s show was very local. Comparatively subdued, Radiohead ran through 24 songs in two hours, with two sets of encores. The songs were well played — 10 new, most of the rest choices included on the band’s first best-of album, to be released next month by Capitol (without the approval of the band, which has left the label) — and then suddenly over, with quiet and slightly tense shifts between songs. Mr. Yorke got inside the music as he normally does, singing like a bowed string instrument, meshing his long vocal tones with the rest of the ensemble, shaking his head from side to side. But he was rarely fully submerged.
It was a limbering-up show. Jonny Greenwood’s loops and digital machinations weren’t particularly arresting, and the group appeared to hit a bump in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” one of the strongest songs on its most recent album, “In Rainbows,” with Phil Selway’s steady, stiff motor rhythm as its I-beam. The band stopped for 20 seconds or so, and started again from the middle. (“Ve obviously did not practice dis one enough,” Mr. Yorke said afterward, feigning a taskmaster’s voice.)
Columns of light strips hung over the band, so that a kind of flashing colored rain at times appeared to be coming down. The video screens were split five ways between side and front views of the band members, who often seemed much smaller than all the pyrotechnics around them.
Radiohead last toured two years ago, which isn’t a long time for some bands. But it is for this group at this point in time: its audience responded rapturously to last year’s pay-what-you-wish Internet release of “In Rainbows.” You could see the anticipation at the show — this crowd was tuned, ready to go. When the guitarist Ed O’Brien started clapping in eighth notes during “15 Step,” one of the “In Rainbows” songs, he looked to the side, making no clap-along-please gesture to the crowd. The crowd immediately fell in line anyway.
A little catharsis was finally reached in the half-hour of encores, with the three-guitar scrum of “Optimistic,” and then the acoustic duet between Mr. Yorke and Mr. Greenwood in “Faust Arp,” with its entropic images about the forced marches and red tape of existence:
Squeeze the tubes and empty bottles
And take a bow, take a bow
It’s what you feel now
What you ought to.
(It took five minutes to write the music, Mr. Yorke remarked from the stage, then a year and a half to write the lyrics.)
And finally, in “House of Cards,” Mr. Yorke’s gloomily provocative version of a love song, with Mr. Greenwood’s watery, dirty slide-guitar sound, the tension and the prettiness sounded equally matched.
Radiohead plays a show Thursday at Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta (sold out), and at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, N.C.; ticketmaster.com.