Radiohead w/ Special Guest Junun: “A Moon Shaped Pool” Tour 2018; US Bank Arena; Cincinnati, OH – Wednesday, July 27, 2018
British band Radiohead’s mercurial leader and frontman, Thom Yorke may have had a love/hate relationship with the mechanisms and expectations that come with an arena rock tour across America, but at Wednesday night’s concert performance he appeared to be more at ease with his fans, and more willing to delve into the long and deep musical catalog of his band.
In the past, Yorke has appeared to disdain live show conventions of “playing your hits” and pandering to the ticket-buying audience, for instance in 2016 it was a Rolling Stone magazine headline when the band played their biggest hit, “Creep,” from their 1993 debut, Pablo Honey, for the first time in seven years. On Wednesday night, while Yorke is not one for idle concert chatter and they played nothing from that first album, he frequently thanked the audience for their warm response to the band’s music, and they delivered up songs that covered much of the band’s recorded history, including the title track of their sophomore album, The Bends, as they were beginning their second encore.
The set proper opened in the same way Radiohead has begun all of their previous shows on this tour, with 3 songs from the latest CD, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool. As if warming themselves up for the tasks ahead, the meditative “Daydreaming” opened around the slow piano sounds as the lights evinced the effect of a disco ball sending rays of light around the arena. “Desert Island Disk” followed, with Yorke playing acoustic guitar as the drummers joined the rest of the band on stage, and the song’s rhythm built up slowly. With “Ful Stop,” they moved to a more aggressive pace, driven by a strong bass line played by Colin Greenwood, after which Yorke greeted the audience for the first time with a warm, “Good evening.”
Next came two from the Hail to the Thief album. “2 + 2 = 5” combined a subtle guitar phrase with Yorke’s high haunting vocals and the percolating rhythms that was a mix of looped beeps and buzzes that many associate with the band’s approach on recent efforts and the driving live drums of Philip Selway, and additional live player, Clive Deamer, as the song picks up speed and is propelled to it’s loud, fast conclusion. “Myxomatosis” starts more aggressively, with a big swinging bass line that is mirrored on synthesizer.
“Kid A,” the title track from the band’s 2000 release, starts out with more pensive bell tones, and Yorke playing tambourine and dancing to a rhythm in his head that appeared far more frantic than the more sedate, slow martial beat, to which the audience in the rear of the arena started clapping along. This felt like an attempt of fans to engage with the music, and the band, but didn’t entirely fit the moment.
While Radiohead has often carried one of the most innovative light shows, they avoid direct cameras and large screens that show distant fans close-ups of the performers. So, I can understand the desire for connection as you get farther back in the arena from the stage, where the lighting was designed to match the song’s mood and message but did little to overcome that distance. While there were video shots of Yorke and the other musicians broadcast on the large oval hanging above the band, these images were mixed in a collage of light and used unusual angles to suggest the vibe more than focus on close-ups of an individual’s performance.
And, the more pensive nature of the next two songs from 2008’s In Rainbows, didn’t make that easier. “All I Need” reflected lighter bell tones, and Yorke’s high floating vocals on the extended line, “S’alright,” followed by more orchestrated “Videotape,” which was built around simple piano chords played by Yorke. It was a highly musical moment, and the audience’s patience was rewarded with “Lucky,” driven by three guitars and a soaring solo from Jonny Greenwood, so far on this evening the closest thing to conventional rock & roll delivered by the band.
There was more where that came from, but generally Radiohead likes to build their setlists – which have changed from night to night on this tour – with the energy ebbing and flowing rhythmically like the waves of the ocean. “Bloom” which featured three drummers including Jonny Greenwood, seemed to bubble up while keyboards dominated the sound. But the energy percolated back to full strength on “Everything In Its Right Place,” with Yorke leading the audience in a unique clapping pattern around the strong rhythm that seemed to be pulled along by the bass. “Lotus Flower” took things up a notch further, with Yorke adding a shaker to the song’s strong percussive quality.
“Reckoner,” obviously a favorite from In Rainbows, drew shouts of recognition from the crowd, when the drum and tambourine locked into the high energy of the piece. Recorded audio clips from current news added to the relevance at the beginning and end of “The National Anthem,” which was another big rocker shaped by a smart guitar riff, which thematically led into “Idioteque,” both songs from “Kid A,” driven by the ping-pong techno beats and Yorke’s fast rhyming which seems at times to echo hip-hop influences as he sang arms outstretched as if taking on the persona of a politician seeking votes. They maintained that pace and energy, as well as the more politically-edge criticism, with “A Wolf at the Door,” from Hail to the Thief, driven by a bluesy guitar riff and warnings of the personal apocalypse, each of these songs drawing a louder and stronger fan response.
Fittingly, the closed the set proper, stepping back from the previous energy and emotional wallop of the songs that led to the climax, with the more balladic brooding of “How to Disappear Completely,” with simple acoustic chording laying the foundation. As they were exiting the stage, Yorke and others bowed and waved independently to the crowd. Fans who’ve been following the reviews and reports of the tour, anticipated they’d return for a 5-song encore, and then again for a few more, and Radiohead maintained the pattern, although like their setlist for this evening, there was little predictable here, except perhaps the final choice.
“Decks Dark,” from A Moon Shaped Pool, started things off, moving from a simple run of notes on the piano building slowly to a bold guitar riff, while images of water flowed on the big screen. The somewhat funky rhythm form “The Gloaming” followed, with Yorke bouncing, practically skipping as he delivered the vocals, which led to a rare piece, “Talk Show Host” which was an additional track on the CD single for “Street Spirit,” recorded around the time of The Bends. It built off a 4-note bluesy guitar riff played over skittering rhythms to a solid rocking energy.
“There There” started out with four drumming, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, who also plays guitars and adds supportive vocals, joining the primary percussionists, but Greenwood switched to electric guitar in time for the big guitar riff that launched his solo and the hardest rocking moment of the evening so far, drawing loud accolades of applause from the fans. “No Surprises,” which starts off like a bit of a lullaby but offers up words of political resistance in it ultimatum that those in power “don’t speak for us.” The band again left the stage, with Yorke & company bowing and waving.
When they returned for the last time, they surprised us with “The Bends,” launched on aggressive power chords and a big sing-along chorus, something that Radiohead has more or less abandoned on more recent outings. This felt like a big pay off, the moment in the night that everything previously was leading up to. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” continued at that higher level of momentum, this time driven by propulsive drum sounds.
Thom Yorke closed out the evening with a curt yet sincere sounding “Thank you for coming,” and then Jonny Greenwood played the acoustic piano intro to perhaps the band’s second most-loved single, “Karma Police,” which the audience joined in singing… and frankly wouldn’t stop even when the band was done and Greenwood had even left the stage. The fans were still in the song’s hold, so Yorke played the acoustic guitar as they sang through the chorus’ repeated line, “This is what you’ll get… when you mess with us,” and moved on to the words of the bridge, “for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself.” Ironically, words of existential loneliness around which community forms in the practice of singing together, creating yet another night for the books.
Although no introductions made this clear from the outset, the evening’s opener also included Jonny Greenwood on bass, supporting vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Shye Ben Tzur and their group Junun. With 8 players/singers on stage, all but Greenwood and Tzur in bright orange headwear with long scarves down their backs, they played a half dozen songs of what might best be described as “world music,” given the exotic rhythms and percussion, and singing in Eastern cadences that recall Muslim calls to prayer from the Sufi Qawalli tradition. Tzur opened with a wooden flute solo that set the tone, but the high energy led to dancing that included the additional vocalists by the end of their brief 25-minute set, which would remind those listening that American pop music sounds are quite provincial and commonplace in a world as rich and varied as the one we inhabit together with so many diverse peoples and cultures.
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb