Radiohead Plays a Mesmerizing, Comfortable Set in Mansfield
The warm late May air lingered all night at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass. last Tuesday as Radiohead rocked the enormous, sold-out crowd. Radiohead constantly pushes the envelope of what is considered “good” alternative rock; from the early 90’s, that meant a ear-awakening guitar chunk in “Creep,” a number of albums that seemed ahead of the times (OK Computer and Amnesiac come to mind), and albums that changed the state of music as we know it (like In Rainbows, available for any price a consumer wants to pay). No doubt about it, Radiohead play what they want to play, and their legion of fans eat it up. Why is this so? Because, as Tuesday night’s show proved, Radiohead is dedicated to creating music that they care about, that they can lose the audience in, but more importantly, that they can lose themselves in. As frontman Thom Yorke dances around loopily to the beats and melodies of the music behind him, he disregards anything that might be telling him otherwise. Radiohead experiment and challenge what mainstream music is, but also are committed to being performers and audience engagers. They’re also British and charming, which helps.
This was all evident at the show last Tuesday. The stage was set, literally and figuratively, for an epic showing (a two-hour long one at that, which certainly felt shorter). Moveable panels, cleverly placed video recordings, light streams of blue and purple, and a vast array of musical instruments adorned the stage. Opener Caribou plowed through their set, loudly and fiercely, and appropriately revved the audience up for the massive turnout that Radiohead would receive. The band took to the stage about an hour later to a vast roar of applause, and the opening beats to 15 Step were exhilarating to a mass of ears that hadn’t seen the band live for a while. Much of the music the band played featured newer songs off of King Of Limbs, the band’s latest record. The intricate and mesmerizing sounds created a feeling of otherworldliness, or underwaterness; the songs from the latest album sounded much more full and layered live, and allowed this time warp that felt like less than two hours to exist. Jonny Greenwood was at his finest, turning knobs and twisting strings all around the stage, as guitarist Ed O’Brien kept it consistent with his guitar hooks. The percussion is what truly shined, however, especially when the band had a total of four drummers pounding away for “There There.” The combination of the elaborate stage set-up, the compelling video screens that felt as if they were showing an artsy film but really were just casting live action, the falsetto echoing from Yorke’s lungs, the minor chords wafting into the night, and the haunting and frontal percussion left a lingering that cut into the audience’s core.
The show was not without some minor flaws, however. Although it was a fantastic rock show by any measure, Radiohead essentially can do anything that the band wants, and fans will come beckoning. This seems to leave the band complacent at times or perhaps not as daring as the band could be. I never expect anything less than amazing from Radiohead, but I also do not expect more when I see the band. I hope that changes as the band continues to push the boundaries and keeps on losing themselves in the music as they have done in the past.