If you scanned the parking lots at Kansas City’s Sprint Center on Wednesday night, you would have noticed something peculiar about the motionless cars. For each Missouri license plate, there were as many, if not more, vehicles adorned with placards from neighboring States and beyond. It would certainly seem to infer that if Radiohead doesn’t come to you, you make it a point to go to Radiohead.
With each subsequent album release, it feels as if the Oxford quintet (expanded to include a second drummer in recent years) hits the road with greater infrequency. So when the band sprung a surprise sojourn of nine dates leading up to their two weekend appearances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, mobilization of their fans ensued.
Long regarded as a phenomenal live act, Wednesday night’s performance did nothing to dispel such truths. The band sauntered onto a dark stage, easing itself into the languid openers “Daydreamers” and “Desert Island Disk.” As the former slowly built, the musicians became increasingly more illuminated, until finally ensconced in a beautiful torrent of white light that resembled an oscillating bar code prison. From there, they would leave the melancholy in the rearview mirror.
Unlike their last local appearance, headlining 2016’s Lollapalooza Chicago, tonight’s setlist firmly perched itself in uptempo territory. They threw themselves into performances from almost every corner of their catalog (with all material from the debut Pablo Honey being ignored). “Ful Stop” was twitchy and spastic, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” untethered itself as unapologetic arena bombast and then induced a collective loosing-of-shit moment as they unearthed the Hail To The Chief gem, “Where I End And You Begin,” which had been mothballed from live performances for nearly a decade.
Lead singer Thom Yorke was in surprisingly animated form. He invested himself in every nuance of his performance, secure in the knowledge that his more-than-able bandmates could support every gesture, however small, nuanced or grandiose, with a soundtrack that never distracted or abated from the material’s epic nature. The encores showed no signs of retreat. “Burn The Witch,” which, as of late, has been elevated to late set status, stumbled out of the gate before finding a gallop that swelled toward a cacophonous crescendo and, ultimately, its whiplash halt. “Fake Plastic Trees” “Nude” and “You And Whose Army?” provided campfire singalong moments (albeit, one attended by 18,000 guests) before ushering in the obligatory cellphone flashlight waving opportunities that were “Karma Police” and “There There.”
Considering the enthusiasm generated by shows end, its safe to assume some of those out-of-state plates are pointed toward the Pacific Northwest right now – the band plays Seattle on Saturday, April 8.
– Words and Photos Curt Baran