Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radiohead / Other Lives - Live 2012.03.09

I just couldn't say no to this concert. It was worth the expensive ticket, even if seeing a concert in 19,000-seat hockey arena is weird.

Artist: Radiohead
Venue: Scottrade Center
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: March 9, 2012
Opening Act: Other Lives

Setlist:
01. Bloom
02. 15 Step
03. Airbag
04. Little by Little
05. Morning Mr. Magpie
06. Myxomatosis
07. Kid A
08. Videotape
09. The Daily Mail
10. The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
11. Karma Police
12. Identikit
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
15. Feral
16. Reckoner

First Encore:
17. Separator
18. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
19. Lucky
20. Electrolite [R.E.M. cover tease] Everything in Its Right Place

Second Encore:
21. Give Up the Ghost
22. You and Whose Army?
23. Idioteque

Review:
This show rocked. I don't know when the last time was that I saw a concert this good – and I saw some good concerts last year! I think a large part of my satisfaction comes from just how good the openers were. I hadn't heard the name until I heard they'd be opening the show, but it turns out that Other Lives are a top-notch band. Hailing from Oklahoma and performing as a six-piece, they produced a dense, nearly orchestral sound. Despite the difficulty in ascertaining who was producing what sound in the mass of guitars, keyboards, and strings, they reminded me of a less abstract My Bloody Valentine, or a more compact Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or of the more complexly arranged Radiohead songs from OK Computer or In Rainbows. Suffice it to say, I liked them a lot.

Speaking of Radiohead, the first surprise of the show for the unsuspecting observer was the presence of two drumsets – guest drummer Clive Deamer has become a steady live member of the band for this tour. To open their set, Radiohead played three album-openers, each of which benefited greatly from the expanded percussion. While "There There" has always featured additional percussion from guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, "Bloom" also featured Johnny on percussion, and Clive's presence on almost every song of the show certainly set the theme of their performance.

The new material from 2011's The King of Limbs benefited greatly from this percussive focus. Since the album already showed an emphasis on reducing sonic complexity in favor of rhythmic precision and ingenuity, it only makes sense that the band would further expand on that front live. Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm for the new album, most of the songs carried a fantastic energy when performed live. "Feral" still remained a formless, weak, meandering half-song, and "Separator" lost some of its subtle wonder, but the others were surprisingly good.

The rest of the setlist was solid. They played their newest single, "The Daily Mail"; an obscure Amnesiac-era b-side, "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"; and the brand-new, unreleased "Indentikit". Other highlights from their extensive back-catalog were "Reckoner", "Lucky", "You and Whose Army?", and three Kid A songs that all garnered massive crowd approval. Oddly, nothing from before OK Computer was performed; other setlists from this tour usually have one song from The Bends, but at this point in Radiohead's career, they can probably afford to forget about their more mainstream alt-rock days.

The band was in top form, clearly extremely well-rehearsed. The rhythms were unbelievably tight and intricate. Clive added quite a bit in that regard to the classic material – especially to songs like "Reckoner" and the Kid A material. (Perhaps that's why those songs stood out to me so much.) On other songs, Clive's influence seemed minimal, superfluous, or even undetectable. I have no idea what he added to "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" or "There There", for example. "Lucky" and "You and Whose Army?" were the only songs he sat out on, presumably because there was literally almost nothing to add. (Well, there was also "Give Up the Ghost", which was performed by just Thom, Johnny, and a sampled beat, but that's a different story.)

The only weak moments were "Feral", a screwy-sounding guitar part by Johnny on "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", and some flubbed lyrics on "Karma Police" – which Thom joked about by then changing the chorus: "This is what you get when you forget the words". But every other moment was a perfect performance, and the encores were incredible. It's fascinating to see a crowd respond so well to a song as abstract as "Everything in Its Right Place". The closing song, "Idioteque" went over quite well, and the performance was even more intense than normal, escalating into an extended frenzied jam at its conclusion.

I'm not sure what else to say. It was an incredible performance, possibly even slightly better than the last time I saw them. And Other Lives were probably the best opening act I've seen since Haii Usagi opened for the Faint.

Scores:
Other Lives: A
Radiohead: A

2 comments:

JDP said...

Man, I agree with the vast majority of everything you've got here. I'd bump up Radiohead's grade to an A+ maybe and also not knock them so hard on Feral, but I get where you're coming from.

For me, it's just incredible to see a band perform such complicated material in so flawless a fashion. These guys (from Yorke down to the scores of stage crew that would flood the stage in between songs to swap out musical equipment) are a well-honed machine. Just thinking about the wide-open sonic landscape that exists between, say, "Give up the Ghost" and "Idioteque" will make your head spin. There can't be another band out there right now who can pull off that disjuncture in the same concert.

My point of comparison here is Sufjan Steven's latest tour (which was previously the best live performance I'd ever seen ... I think this one takes the cake now). His set in KC a few years ago oscillated between mellow acoustic songs and mind-bending nearly-avant garde electronic material, but he was much less convincing in the transition. Whereas the Stevens set was basically schizophrenic in nature, Radiohead's set seemed more an exploration of a broader (and more consistent) theme. It's difficult to describe, I guess, but ...

One thing your review doesn't focus on is the stage setting, which has to be -- hands down -- the most innovative thing I've seen in a live musical production. Two huge screens that projected broad swathes of color behind the band were augmented by dozens of smaller, hanging screens onto which were projected live footage of each band member performing. These smaller screens moved around at all sorts of crazy angles on thin cables and the effect sometimes appear like the band was performing under a huge broken mirror. It was awesome.

Patrick said...

@JDP,

Well, maybe they deserved the A+. That was a close call. It's hard to make real complaints about the performance, after all! The A+ is pretty rare for me, but this is probably as close as I've seen in a long time.

I totally forgot about the stage design in the review. I was too focused on the music -- but that was a pretty awesome backdrop, except for the times when the giant monitors blocked the view. Still, it was a cool idea to have them in different configurations for each song. The weird static effects that they used to distort the images made them fit in well with the massive backprojected backdrops, too.

As you've mentioned before, "There There" was also a standout performance. It's odd to see four people on percussion, though, at least until Johnny's guitar comes in.

Also, there was one song that Ed didn't play on at all -- didn't even pick up a tambourine. Generally I like even his most subtle additions (like his backing vocals), but I found his especially passive state on that song odd. However, I've forgotten which that was. Do you recall?