Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bonnaroo 2012: Radiohead — Enough Said

Posted By on Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Apart from a half-hearted attempt to see a few songs by Ludacris over the human roadblock outside This Tent, and a couple of songs trying to figure out who that electro-pop artist was who sounded so familiar — wait, that was Feist? — my first day at Bonnaroo was spent mostly in a kind of time warp. And it was a wonderful place to be: Sharon Jones and her ace Dap-Kings delivering a soul revue that would've given Ike and Tina a run for their money back in the day; Afrocubism's entrancing grooves-out-of-time; Fitz and the Tantrums wowing a jubilant crowd with blue-eyed R&B summer jams given a spitshine of ’80s pop gloss. Even the dazzling Rodrigo y Gabriela, backed by the powerhouse C.U.B.A. ensemble on the What Stage in a Friday-night headliner slot, returned throughout the night to the kind of wicked wah-wah riffing that usually heralds the arrival of John Shaft.

By contrast, Radiohead brought the future.

It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since OK Computer, in part because each new Radiohead record pushes the group's earlier work farther off its radar. (You didn't really think you were going to hear anything off Pablo Honey or The Bends, did you?) Roughly a quarter of the band's generous 25-song show (including two encores) was devoted to last year's The King of Limbs, an album of electronic experimentation and hiccuping beats that cast off the pop-songcraft vestiges of 2007's In Rainbows like a zeppelin ditching sandbags. At first listen, it sounds like a studio hothouse flower that would wilt in Manchester's heat and dust.

The concert opener, Limbs' lead-off track "Bloom," removed any doubts about its stageworthiness. Framed by a rapidly blinking grid of monitors offering kaleidoscopic cubist glimpses of the band members, against a backdrop resembling a cathedral organ's pipes undulating with marbled light patterns, the group turned a rhythmic headscratcher of a song on record into a billowing sail of beats, nervy and elating.

As dizzying as the visual show was, it was frustrating at first not to be able to see the band members in giant, unwavering close-up on the festival's jumbo monitors. Given that the band hasn't toured in, what, four years, you want a good long look at frontman Thom Yorke's baying-at-the-moon expression as he unwinds his hair-raising falsetto, or to watch every strand fly in fearsome guitarist Jonny Greenwood's Dairy Queen coif as he rakes his strings like a guy trying furiously to yank-start his lawn mower.

But the band is pursuing something more democratic: a focus on the whole over the individual components. The songs are more about overall texture than melodic fragments, solos or hooks; the show seemed more about a symphonic overall sweep than individual songs. Progressing from U2's ambient adventuring at its most arena-friendly, the band creates an anthemic, cathartic swell of collaborative noise that's affecting, exciting and moving even when you can't put your finger on the chord progression or chorus that makes it take flight.

That's not to say there weren't stand-outs among a set that was rarely less than spellbinding. Some of the night's most spine-tingling moments came from Yorke momentarily singing alone at his piano, even when, as during a gorgeous version of last year's single "The Daily Mail," he sat with his back to the crowd. Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong" got one of the night's biggest crowd responses, with Yorke and Greenwood starting head to head before locking into what sounded like the binary recoding of a blues riff in a missile silo. "There There" had perhaps the most electrifying of Greenwood's Andromeda Strain contamination-alarm guitar parts, while the winding wail Yorke uncorked at the climax of In Rainbows' "Nude" raised goosebumps in a night that wasn't exactly chilly.

Yorke's endearingly goofy banter and unguarded stage presence were maybe the night's least expected pleasures. I couldn't quite make out what he was saying about a "British tradition" of taking acid, sleeping face down and then calling your parents, but his spastic booty-dancing does as much as anything to remove any hint of pretension from the band's intricate, rhythmically challenging songs. And when the group finally played OK Computer's "Karma Police," evoking the same shimmering textures with acoustic guitar and piano that they'd created with a battery of electronic aids and beats — only with 90,000 enraptured people singing along — it didn't sound like a step backward but a revisited preview of things to come.

Other than the "big thank you" to Jack White as they dedicated "Supercollider" during the first encore — Yorke teased that he couldn't say why, "but you'll find out" — the night's loudest screams came for the closing performance of "Paranoid Android," which ended the concert in a blinding flash of lights and a final salvo of throbbing noise. "Have a suitably messed-up weekend!" Yorke enthused. The dude beside me had already started, having mixed some 'shrooms into a hospitality-suite stirfry of fried rice while coercing a vendor into slipping some into a smoothie blender. But after Radiohead's elating set, no added enhancers were needed.

Setlist:

Bloom
15 Step
Kid A
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Staircase
The Daily Mail
I Might Be Wrong
The Gloaming
Separator
Nude
Morning Mr. Magpie
Identikit
Lotus Flower
There There
Karma Police
Feral
Idioteque

Encore
You And Whose Army?
House of Cards
Supercollider
Bodysnatchers
True Love Waits / Everything in Its Right Place

Second Encore
Give Up the Ghost
Reckoner
Paranoid Android

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Slideshow
Bonnaroo: Friday, (Radiohead) 6/8/12

Bonnaroo: Friday, (Radiohead) 6/8/12

By Michael W. Bunch

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