Radiohead’s music often requires a good deal of time and effort to unravel, but the band’s day-to-day operations are all about immediate gratification — from the gotcha release of “In Rainbows” some years back to the on-the-fly planning of this two-night Gotham stand, announced just days in advance.
As might be expected, given the quick turnaround, the perf’s staging was bare-bones — which Thom Yorke addressed at one point, asking aud members to imagine pianos rising from beneath the stage and inflatable pigs hovering in mid-air. The sonics, however, were anything but, with virtually every song building into a wide-screen epic – something of a surprise, since the band’s recently released eighth album, “The King of Limbs,” is the very model of minimalism and restraint.
Radiohead’s music has grown more rhythmic and diffuse in recent years – not danceable per se, but percussion-driven – a fact that was driven home in the extended set-opener “Bloom,” on which Phil Selway and second drummer Colin Deamer were augmented by bassist Colin Greenwood on snare. That was the first of a passel of new tunes frontloaded at the top of the perf – an unapologetically gutsy move underscored by the presence of “Staircase,” a tune that didn’t even make it onto “The King Of Limbs” (but did make it to the band’s “Saturday Night Live” appearance last weekend).
The band did dust off some old favorites, including a purposefully atonal, heated “The National Anthem” and a lurching “Subterranean Homesick Alien” (a song that hasn’t hit one of their set lists in several years). They also joined in on the currently de rigueur practice of paying homage to R.E.M. by appending a short, acoustic take on that band’s “The One I Love” to their own “Everything In Its Right Place.”
The nod to the little ol’ band from Athens wasn’t the set’s only foray into current affairs. Yorke worked up quite a head of steam on “The Daily Mail,” a “King of Limbs” outtake that touches on the financial crisis and the complicity of the conservative media on both sides of the Atlantic in absolving its architects.
While he’s certainly not the archetypal rock frontman, what with his ungainly dancing and non sequitur-laden stage banter, Yorke managed to cast himself as the focal point throughout – via his falsetto delivery in the eerie “Give Up the Ghost” and his elegantly gentle piano work on “Codex.”
At two hours in length, the set was generously proportioned – a wise move, given the fact that the will-call only ticket process required aud members spend at least an hour in line to gain entry to the venue. But even after 120-plus minutes, band and crowd seemed to leave vivified, rather than wrung out – a testament to Radiohead’s ongoing vitality.