Radiohead at Arena, 3/15/12

G. Luke Holwerda

Radiohead Arena
Thursday, March 15

See the full Radiohead slideshow here.

Last week I made it public knowledge that I'm not a Radiohead fan. Call me crazy, but the songs of the critically adored, legendary art rockers just don't speak to me. The sounds are distant and obtuse, and what can I say? I like music with immediacy.

But I went into last night's show feeling -- bring on the Radiohead puns -- optimistic. People don't just like Radiohead, they love them, and the band's status as innovators has been trumpeted far and wide. I stated in my original piece that I was willing to give Radiohead a shot, that I was excited to see if the intimacy of a live show would connect for me the way so many of the bands' records connect for its fans.

I was hoping to be impressed by the show, or at the very least that it would make me understand more about the culture that has formed around Radiohead over the years. I didn't expect to walk out of the arena as a new fan, but I was open to the idea.

I expected that there would be a few songs that made me wish I had shown up stoned. What I got was an experience that was somewhere in the middle.

G. Luke Holwerda

That mystical "feeling" Radiohead fans insisted I would get at the show? I felt it right away. My chest felt lighter and my body as a whole felt suddenly weightless the moment the band eased into "Bloom," from its latest record, King of Limbs.

The ambient tones and Afrobeat leaning rhythm of the song felt pleasantly different than what I heard when I've listened to their records. It wasn't better live in the way that jam bands are better live. It was different. To my honest, reluctant dismay, it sounded special.

G. Luke Holwerda

Part of what made the show become a fulfilling experience was the band's grand stage presence. Part of it was that feeling where I could lose myself in the live versions of every song. Even the production value was clutch, with the way the suspended LED boards looked like they gave everyone a mirror view of each band member. And there's no questioning that Thom Yorke was just straight-up fun to watch, especially during "Idioteque." Thom had the energy and spirit of a child, incessantly doing his "Lotus Flower-y" dance all about the stage.


G. Luke Holwerda

The lull of the piano in "Pyramid Song" and "The Daily Mail" did bore me, but the rest of the performance was quite lively. The audience was respectfully quiet throughout the entirety of every song until each was done. For the first time all night, the crowd sang along and totally lost it during "Paranoid Android" and went as crazy as the strobe lights during the hard guitar riffs. It was shocking that it actually took that long for an arena full of Radiohead lovers to show any sort of abandonment, preferring reverence to outright revelry.

G. Luke Holwerda

In the end, I think they're a great band; they're just not for me. I still don't fully understand why people go totally batty for these guys, but I get it more than I did a week ago. The band has steadily evolved, moving from the almost grungey Brit-pop of earlier records to their status as electro-rock statesmen. Yorke is an intriguing frontman, and Jonny Greenwood is a stellar guitarist. I certainly see more clearly why people worship the band, but still wonder about younger fans who view them as "a sacred cow," who "love" them because they are expected to. I've asked some of my peers what makes Radiohead (supposedly) great, and the usual answer is something to the tune of, "They're just so awesome, man."

I can't say I've turned into a full-on fan, but yeah -- there was a certain awesomeness to the night's proceedings. Would I pay to see another one of Radiohead's non-festival shows? Eh..probably not. Am I glad I saw Radiohead in concert? Absolutely.

Critic's notebook:

Last night: Radiohead at Arena.

Personal bias: What personal bias? Just kidding.

The crowd: Last night's crowd was a sea of classy hipsters that were all about wearing Radiohead shirts, seemingly making the "don't wear the band's shirt to the band's concert" rule irrelevant for just one night.

Overheard: "Shrooms would have been good."

Random notebook dump: I wonder what kind of looks I would have gotten if I had worn a shirt to the show that read, "Radiohead...meh. Not crazy about 'em." Something tells me that wouldn't have gone very well.

Set list:
15 Step
Little By Little
The Gloaming
Morning Mr Magpie
Pyramid Song
The Daily Mail
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box
Identikit (new song)
Lotus Flower
There There

Encore #1
How To Disappear Completely
Kid A

Encore #2
Give Up The Ghost
Paranoid Android

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