By John Jurgensen
âThanks for coming all the way out here,â Thom Yorke said last night to his sold-out audience. âWherever this may be.â
Apparently the Radiohead front man didnât knowâ"or didnât careâ"that he was in the home arena of the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team currently in a fight against the L.A. Kings for the Stanley Cup.Â The teams will be in Newark, N.J., Saturday for game two of the series, but until then the Prudential Center belongs to Radiohead.
The band opened the first of two shows there with the cushiony shuffle of âBloom,â from its âKing of Limbsâ album. A crop of cameras and phones popped up in the crowd, and the glow of these little screens matched the aqua-marine tones washing across the big video displays surrounding the band.
It was a high-tech yet understated production that the band has been flaunting on a tour that launched in February, and continues in North America through mid-June before jumping overseas. Three massive stationary screens loomed behind and above the stage, and blended performance video with shifting shapes and colors.
Twelve individual screens dangled above the band members. Each screen, perhaps the dimensions of a luxury home TV, moved independently on wires. The panels made a new formation for each songâ" facing down to create an umbrella over the band, for example, or fanning out like a burst of glowing confetti. When the screens tipped and swiveled, they looked like robotic faces fixing their gaze. The vibe of sci-fi surveillance was reinforced by the on-screen images. Discreetly placed cameras shot the band members in multiple angles as they bashed away. The video was filtered through various colors and effects, giving the live footage the look of a documentary film or a music video.
Throughout the night, band members shuffled instruments, with Yorke playing piano, synthesizer or guitar. At one point, guitarist Johnny Greenwood hunched over a compact drum kit at the foot of the stage. On âBodysnatchersâ he ripped at his electric guitar as if pulling a lawnmower cord, and later manipulated a device that looked like a transistor radio on âThe National Anthem,â which included sampled infomercials. He dueled on drums with guitarist Ed OâBrien during âThere There,â and on the crowd favorite âKarma Police,â OâBrien harmonized with Yorke by moaning through cupped hands.
Instead of a typical seating setup in front of the stage, the concert was general admission on the floor. That offered a sort of aquarium view of the many variants of Radiohead fan.Â Parents holding hands with their cool-looking kids. Squared-away guys wearing baseball caps. Wispy hipsters. Shirtless hippie types noodling their arms to the music. Couples slow danced or awkwardly spun each other in circles. Small clouds of marijuana smoke drifted about.
Yorke bounced around the stage like a hip-hop sprite, reenacting some of the dance moves immortalized in the video for âLotus Flower.â Unshaven and wearing his hair in a ponytail, he seemed buoyant and mischievous. âWeâre not ready for the greatest hits yet. When we are, weâll be dead,â he said to the crowd before playing âIdentikit,â a new song marked by a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking vocals and rhythms.Â Other recent songs included the gently spiraling âStaircase,â and âThe Daily Mail,â a tune with an aggressive climax and allusions to a certain media scandal in the Radioheadâs home country.
During the first of two encores, Yorke stood next to a piano draped with the Tibetan flag. âFree Tibet, motherfâ"â"s. This oneâs for Adam Yauch,â he said, dedicating âEverything in Its Right Placeâ to the recently deceased Beastie Boy who had included Radiohead on two Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the late â90s.
After the concert closed with a jubilant âReckonerâ and multiple thank-youâs from the band, the audience shuffled for the exits. Two fans stationed themselves at the foot of an escalator bank, clapping and bellowing, âLetâs go devils!â Not many people joined the chant.