For my money — and given what resellers were charging for tickets to Thursday’s Radiohead concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, that could’ve been a lot of money — the hanging LED lighting tubes edged out the brilliant music to steal the show.
The tubes rained light during “The Gloaming” and “Paranoid Android” when those songs’ lyrics mentioned rain, they made waves of soft purple light during “Everything In Its Right Place,” and they exploded in a prolonged technicolor orgasm of flashing red and blue during the hypnotic fuzz-bass-driven “National Anthem.” Sometimes they resembled icicles, sometimes they implied fire, and always they wowed the crowd. The lighting tubes were complemented by bright, monochromatic split-screen images behind the stage of the band members playing, plus an array of other environmentally friendly LED lights. At times the glowing screens of the cellphones held by people in the pit, presumably photographing the spectacle, even felt like part of the light show.
It seems fitting that light and color would be so important to Radiohead’s concert: the band is touring in support of its 2007 album called In Rainbows, the download-it-and-pay-what-you-like-or-pay-nothing-if-you’re-stingy album that still managed to reach No. 1 through CD sales both in the United States and the band’s native United Kingdom.
Over the course of the main set and two encores, singer Thom Yorke, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, bass guitarist Colin Greenwood, and drummer Phil Selway performed this entire album, even including “Go Slowly” off the second CD from the limited diskbox version of the album. They also played half of their experimental, challenging, and mostly guitar-free masterpiece Kid A from 2000; four songs off their cerebral, electronically tinged and richly textured alientation-themed 1997 album OK Computer; and a few songs off 2003’s slightly disappointing hybrid-of-their-career-up-to-that-point Hail to the Thief. They even reached back to the alt-rock guitar anthem “The Bends,” which was great to hear but seemed out of place, and the Bends-era B-side “Talk Show Host.” Expanding beyond the band’s oeuvre, the first encore started with Yorke alone at the piano singing “Cymbal Rush” from his 2006 solo album, The Eraser.
Highlights included the sing-along “Karma Police” (especially the whole crowd singing “This is what you get when you mess with us”), the aforementioned “National Anthem,” the looped ending of “Everything In Its Right Place” as the band exited one by one followed by the word “EVERYTHING” moving across the lighting tubes at the end of the first encore, the prog-rock suite “Paranoid Android,” the hardest-rocking track “Bodysnatchers” off In Rainbows, and Yorke’s frenetic dancing at the end of “Idioteque,” which closed the concert.
It must be mentioned that the band’s musicianship was of the same caliber as the light show. I was especially struck by Selway’s precision, which rivals that of the drum machines that the band grew fond of starting around Kid A. Also amazing was the whole band’s multi-instrumental capabilities, with different band members adding synthesized textures as needed. Sadly, Greenwood’s guitar seemed too low in the mix during the distorted bits to fully appreciate his subtle mastery of the instrument.
For those who missed this concert, which was the last show on Radiohead’s current North American tour, it was Webcast live on the band’s official site, where Greenwood also revealed that Santa Barbara is one of the band’s favorite places to play. Let’s hope they come back soon!
Many fragments from the Webcast are available online. Click here and search for “Radiohead Santa Barbara” for other videos. It’s not quite the same as being there, especially since you can’t get a full sense of those magical lighting tubes, but you should still check it out.
3. There There
4. 15 Step
5. All I Need
7. Talk Show Host
8. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
9. The Gloaming
10. Morning Bell
11. National Anthem
12. Faust Arp
13. No Surprises
14. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
15. The Bends
16. Karma Police
18. Cymbal Rush
19. House of Cards
20. Paranoid Android
21. Go Slowly
22. Everything In Its Right Place