Radiohead (with Caribou), The Prudential Center, Newark, NJ, May 31st, 2012
Jun 08, 2012
Radiohead have been progressing from a standard rock band (albeit a damn good one) circa The Bends and OK Computer, into something more silvery, elliptical, and downright challenging, beginning with 2000's epochal Kid A. However, their live shows still bring the rock action, to paraphrase Iggy Pop, and their astounding gig at Newark's Prudential Center was no exception. Opening with "Bloom," from last year's polarizing The King of Limbs, the track's skittish beats and synth stutters were replaced by forceful polyrhythmics courtesy of Phil Selway and augmented by the supple beats courtesy of touring drummer Clive Deamer [Portishead]. The track was rendered somehow more sinister and nefarious than its recorded counterpart, as black as anything from David Bowie's Low or Iggy Pop's The Idiot, influences long overlooked throughout dissections of Radiohead's recent output.
An ebullient version of "15 Step" followed, with the crowd's singalong of "You used to be alright, what happened," overpowering frontman Thom Yorke's grizzled yet gorgeous falsetto. And indeed, this proclivity came to the fore a few times during the evening, as technical gremlins reared their ugly heads, fucking up a few tracks, most notably Kid A classic "Idioteque," which lead to Yorke stomping off the stage in disgust as the sample and drum machine track were woefully out of sync. But as Yorke once said in an interview of what he gleaned from touring with his heroes in R.E.M., "This wasn't Lady Gaga. They'd be struggling along, and boom, everything would come into place."
And that happened on the likes of "Morning Mr. Magpie," its impenetrable electronics swapped out for a woozy, rhythmic guitar thrust. And penultimate number "The National Anthem" was like a fuse bomb, it's build up beginning with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood's transistor radio static and a wall of feedback lending the track a push-pull tension that wouldn't be fully released until the track's cacophonous, claustrophobic white-noise outro akin to the Velvets' "White Light/White Heat." On "The National Anthem," Yorke sang with more fervor and bile than usual, "Everyone, everyone around here, everyone is so near." And few bands aside from Radiohead could make a 20,000 seat arena seem quite so intimate, with the visceral kick normally reserved for a club date. But this is a band, if not at the peak of their formidable powers, damn close to it, and still one of the finest live acts in the world.
Closing with the elegiac "Reckoner," Yorke urged compassionately, "You were not to blame for bittersweet detractors," which captured the essence of what has led millions to be captivated by this seminal act-human connectedness. And this sentiment was to be found in spades during this messy yet gloriously life-affirming two-hour concert.
Caribou effectively warmed up the crowd with a short 30 minute set to a 1/4 full arena, no easy task, but one that was facilitated by a magnificent light show. Their set was culled mainly from their most recent and finest album, 2010's Swim. Dan Snaith and co. delivered the numbers with a punchy élan, like mid-period Aphex Twin crossed with Nuggets-era garage gems, punctuated by an absolutely scorching version of "Sun." This wasn't the ideal setting to catch them, but was indeed a fine introduction to a band's that's created a decade's worth of albums arguably commensurate with Radiohead's. Next time they play your town in a 1000 capacity venue, don't miss them. They're a special act that begs to be seen in the intimacy of a small club.
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