After three years away from American stages, Radiohead made their triumphant U.S. return last night to a packed house at New York's Roseland Ballroom, where roughly 3,500 fans saw the band perform what could be the strangest concert in their history. Radiohead's set list almost completely eschewed every song that put the band atop rock's Mount Olympus in the first place -- only one OK Computer track was played, and it was "Subterranean Homesick Alien," which they hadn't performed live since 2003 -- as they instead focused on perfecting The King of Limbs tracks live. Pablo Honey and Amnesiac were skipped entirely, Hail to the Thief had a brief appearance ("Myxomatosis"), and if not for the surprise second encore of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" that happened when fans refused to leave Roseland after the house lights came on, it would have been a Bends-less night as well.
For many fans, this was the first opportunity to see the Limbs songs live and hear how those tracks have evolved since the studio album arrived in February. TKOL opener "Bloom," which also opened the concert, was acid-jazzier and more satisfying in its live incarnation. "Morning Mr Magpie" had an unbridled energy missing from the studio version thanks to a rare all-out guitar assault. Slower tracks "Give Up the Ghost," performed by just Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, and "Codex" were more haunting onstage. The non-LP track "The Daily Mail," which has quickly firmed up its reputation as Radiohead's new "You and Whose Army?"-esque anthem, ended up as one of the show's highlights.
And there were plenty of highlights, like the resurrection of "Subterranean" and the crowd harmonizing with Yorke on "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." (Surprisingly, the crowd embraced the In Rainbows material more than any other album all night, which pretty much gives you an idea of the average age of the audience.) Yorke also took a moment, before "Everything in Its Right Place," to pay tribute to a band that had a major impact on Radiohead by performing a few lines from R.E.M.'s "The One I Love." (Yorke has played "The One I Love" in the past, but this time it had extra resonance, under the circumstances.)
Still, the concert felt more like a live rehearsal in front of a few thousand rabid fans than one of Radiohead's big festival gigs. Midway through "Reckoner," the band's best post-Kid A track, Yorke goofed the lyrics, stopped the song in its tracks, giggled, backed up a few notes, and picked up from there. Which, in the end, was what made last night's concert so great: Everyone's seen Radiohead as rock gods over the past decade, but to see them in this small venue, performing looser and seemingly having more fun than their usual meticulously prepared selves, was a wonderful experience in itself.
Radiohead will perform again tonight at Roseland, then go away for awhile before their promised 2012 tour. Check out AtEase for last night's set list, and watch highlights of Radiohead's Roseland gig below:
"Subterranean Homesick Alien"
"Give Up the Ghost"
[Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com]
- Roseland Ballroom
- Subterranean Homesick Alien