By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
Radiohead is more a like sect than a band. Its fans are the most passionate and devoted outside of the jam scene.Theirs are a holy grail of concerts: They tour frequently enough to be accessible, but not often enough to be taken for granted.
It was not surprising to find the lawn at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis dotted with Royals and Jayhawks apparel from devoted fans who trekked across the state or farther to catch their band in its first area performance in five years.
The evening started with the subdued intro of “All I Need,” which slipped into the more energetic “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” Both tracks were from their latest album “In Rainbows,” which they would play in its entirety, though not in order.
The unquestionable high point for me was a transcendent reading of “Fake Plastic Trees”; then again, everything from “The Bends” and “OK Computer” albums drew strong response. The performance of “Myxomatosis,” off “Hail to the Thief” was also particularly inspired. The congregation hung on every note: There was little talking in the crowd; and the beer lines were short.
In concert, Radiohead is an altered beast from its studio counterpart. On record, the band strives for (and gets close to) perfection. There’s no trace of this fussiness on stage, where the songs are more raw, visceral and immediate. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood ripped into the opening riff or “Airbag” with punk energy. Similarly, the guitar line to “15 Step” was slinkier and sexier than it comes across on album.
Radiohead’s influences also shine brighter on stage. A stripped-down reading of “Everything In Its Right Place” showed hints of Stevie Wonder on the electric piano. “Bangers + Mash,” a cut from the “In Rainbows” disc-box bonus CD, found frontman Thom Yorke on a second, smaller drum kit and sounded like a lost Rage Against the Machine B-side.
“Idioteque” sounded straight out of the Manchester club scene and prompted an inspired dance from Yorke. “Faust Arp” found Yorke and Greenwood alone on stage duetting at the same mic like John and Paul over a melody that split the difference between “Blackbird” and “Julia.”
(Above: Thom Yorke dances at the “Idioteque.”)
The stage was dressed simply with dozens of descending LED pool noodles and a video board spotlighting the band members. The luminescent stalactites rippled and shimmered with light either splashed across them or projected through them. It was a pretty cool effect, but one the band thought would not transfer over the venue’s cameras. It wasn’t the greatest to be stuck on the lawn and learn that, at the band’s request, the amphitheater video screens would not be used, but it was nice to be able to view their presentation in its entirety.
By the end of the night I was feeling euphoria and exhaustion. Euphoric from the energy of what I’d just witnessed, but exhausted from its sustained intensity. I could have either guzzled an energy drink and stayed up writing all night a la Kerouac or “Tarantula”-era Dylan or slipped right into slumber. I chose the latter.
Set list: All I Need, Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Airbag, 15 Step, Nude, Kid A, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, The Gloaming, You and Whose Army?, Idioteque, Faust Arp, Videotape, Everything in Its Right Place, Reckoner, Optimistic, Bangers + Mash, Bodysnatchers (Encore 1): Exit Music (for a film), Myxomatosis, My Iron Lung, There There, Fake Plastic Trees (Encore 2): Pyramid Song, House of Cards (/No Surprises), Paranoid Android