Radiohead makes music that makes time travel easier

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Radiohead in concert

Radiohead in concert. Photo by Ajay Murthy.

When Radiohead beamed down in Auckland for only the second time, not everyone went home happy. I say beamed because there’s something increasingly ‘otherworldly’ about the band – especially if you factor in its newer recordings and singer Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser and his Atoms for Peace side project.

But judging by the comments from some punters to the NZ Herald review of the concert, contemporary Radiohead got the thumbs down from those wanting a Radiohead nostalgia trip.

Those fans had come to see the OK Computer era band and were not prepared for a show skewed towards the more recent end of the group’s career (with the emphasis on the King Of Limbs album) and which carried its past musical baggage very lightly.

But for the rest of us with expectations of just being able to see one of the seminal alternative music acts to straddle the end of one millennium and the beginning of another, it was a glorious and illuminating experience.

Radiohead may not have brought many of the old songs that made first made it famous, songs like Creep, High and Dry and Karma Police, but the group did bring two hours of Radiohead’s futuristic dystopian world view. It was brutal and uncompromising at times but worth every second.

Radiohead are more interested in being history makers, than repeating history.

Backed by a gorgeous and, at times, hallucinatory epilepsy inducing light show, Radiohead began the programme in a rush, slowed down in places, crashed through more of the band’s later songs with a relentless sonic aggression that ended on a ringing high.

If you didn’t know the lyrics, it was easy to imagine music about worlds spinning out of control and collapsing stars.

Someone posted the group’s set list on Twitter (via @christype) and although I haven’t verified it, it does match the list that the NZ Herald published in its online review. The highlights included Lotus Flower, Weird Fish, Ideoteque, Separator, two newish songs – Identikit and Supercollider – and one old favourite, Paranoid Android.

Interviews with band members have made clear their fear of being trapped in a time warp, playing the same songs to audiences which expect a backward looking ride through the group’s considerable back catalogue, with an emphasis on OK Computer, the album that makes many critics best album lists.

There’s now a similar case to be made for King of Limbs as an artistic breakthrough album.  There’s just such an evidently fierce intelligence and convention defying ethos about Radiohead that makes the band want to confound expectations. This show was less about the past and much more the present and the directions it is intent on pursuing.

Radiohead were awe-inspiring at the Vector Arena – a completely sold out show! – because my only real expectation was to see one of the epochal bands of a generation play live in the flesh. This beloved and artful super group thrilled because there were all the signs that its famous creativity shows little evidence of ebbing or slowing down.

Judging by the group’s thunderous, digitally enhanced sound and brilliantly hallucinatory stage design, Radiohead is intent on making light speed, as if it was in a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. Plot a course to the heart of the future. Twenty five years after its genesis, Radiohead remains a vital and creative tour de force. No complacency to see here, people, just a band whose artistic ambition continues to burn hard and fiercely. And it was a thing of wonder to see live.

Thanks to Ajay Murthy (@ajaystwtr) and @christype for the images used here. The videos below were taken on my Flip recorder. This review also appears on the Fantale FM website.

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