Radiohead | San Jose | Review | Photos

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Jay Blakesberg

Radiohead :: 04.11.12 :: HP Pavilion :: San Jose, CA

Full photo gallery below review!

Radiohead by Jay Blakesberg
Four songs into Radiohead’s barnstorming trip to the future at the cavernous HP Pavilion, as deep album track “Kid A” began to rapturous shrieks and applause, it struck me what an incredibly unlikely coliseum/arena level band this is. Without ever pandering or sculpting their creative vision to any outside influence, Radiohead has managed to become one of the biggest bands on the planet, filling up halls generally reserved for flavor-of-the-month pop/country acts, kids shows on ice, and hits hocking mega-acts like Journey and the Eagles. Moreover, they’ve done so while carving out arguably the most influential body of work since The Beatles, and then pulling off the trick the Fabs never could – fully realizing their vision in the live setting, which they did with dazzling success in San Jose.

After an absorbing, soaring, instrument swapping set from tour openers Other Lives, the pre-show music – the soundtrack a robot masseuse might use – kicked in and began easing us into modernity – something Radiohead has been doing for decades and continues to be WAY more successful at than nearly any group today (U2 tries but there’s something old school rock ‘n’ roll about them they’ll never shake). Each chapter in Radiohead’s evolution has seemed just slightly ahead of where everyone else is working, and better still, it feels organic in their hands, a natural creep into technology, new social interaction and the like that never fully sheds the blood and feelings of human beings. As if wanting to punctuate this dynamic, the slow cathode ray rise of their absolutely stunning stage design during opener “Bloom” immediately tossed one into a Matrix-esque state of disorientation – jittery lights, kinetic, multi-angle video imagery, and the endlessly thick sonic onslaught offering any of 20 or more things one might focus on at any given moment. This production, in both its magnitude and imagination, makes most similar level acts look positively lazy and outdated by comparison. In reaching this coveted stratosphere, Radiohead seems more dedicated than ever to give audiences a proper experience and not just another night on the town. At every turn, the combination of sound and vision erased the usual distance of the 19,000 capacity venue in a way even a heavily seasoned concert veteran like myself has rarely – if ever – witnessed.

Radiohead by Jay Blakesberg
Subtle components – the ever changing positioning of the crazy array of overhead video screens, the color coding for each number – continually kept one engaged with a setlist largely comprised of tunes from Radiohead’s most recent albums, King of Limbs (2011) and In Rainbows (2007). For another band this might be a risky move, especially in such a large hall, but even the most obscure offerings were greeted with instant recognition and undisguised love. This last element – love – is important to note. It’s not entirely clear when it happened but Radiohead has become a cause, a church, a bedrock for a lot of people, and their flock studies every missive, whisper and shrug with a mix of academic inquiry and apostolic nutiness. If one doubts this the evidence was in the hundreds singing along to yet-unreleased songs “Identikit” and “The Daily Mail” at this show, both current tour premieres that folks memorized via fan-shot YouTube clips. It’s both moving and a little creepy to witness the passion folks bring to this band. I’m guilty of a healthy amount of it myself, though I was still a bit weirded out when thousands started clapping along to disembodied Amnesiac staple "Everything in Its Right Place.” It’s not something I would ever have predicted but predicting ANYTHING with Radiohead is foolish. Maybe like any faith-stirring enterprise, Radiohead works in mysterious ways - ways we can’t put into language or relate articulately to others - and the faithful were feeling it in a huge way in San Jose, doing their best to dance like lead singer Thom Yorke and sighing delightedly at the end of each song.

It doesn’t hurt their increasing fan base status that Yorke is getting a good deal chattier these days. At HP he was downright conversational, regularly offering his proverbial hand to the outstretched masses, giving insights to pieces, and cracking wise as the spirit moved him, even taking a playful dig at Silicon Valley at one point. But, what’s more important about them at this stage is how they relentlessly better their studio work, particularly the more recent material, with transformative arrangements and a carnivorous attack that dispels the sometimes somnambulant studio feel of the Limbs material. It makes one realize what can be achieved if artists are committed to constantly bettering themselves regardless of the riches, fame, etc. that come their way. Radiohead, based on this wonderful evening, is the standard by which all modern rock outfits should measure themselves in the days ahead.

Setlist

Bloom, 15 Step, Morning Mr. Magpie, Kid A, Staircase, The Gloaming, The National Anthem, The Amazing Sounds of Orgy, Climbing Up the Walls, Karma Police, Identikit, Lotus Flower, There There, Feral, Little by Little, Reckoner

Encore: Separator, I Might Be Wrong (tour debut), Myxomatosis, Everything In Its Right Place

Encore 2: The Daily Mail, Planet Telex (tour debut), Idioteque

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[Published on: 4/13/12]

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