Radiohead kicked off its US tour in support of its latest album, the King of Limbs, Monday night with a sold out show at the AmericanAirlines Arena. It marked the first time the alt-rock legends performed a show in Miami since they opened for REM in support of the Bends in the mid-nineties. Much has changed in those 20 years since Radiohead’s sophomore release. Fans of REM have faded, as that band has broken up while Radiohead has now (as of this post, at least) eclipsed REM as far as relevance in the independent rock world.
Radiohead are probably a rarity among independent music scene, in order to sell out an arena all by itself without the help of endorsements, heavy commercial radio play and a major label. Add to that the notion that the band has re-invented its sound so many times since its last Miami arena show as an opening act (kids, I’ve been there from the beginning, as this post documents: Radiohead tribute show in Miami, allow me a few words on said band), while still maintaining its line-up all these years (though this show saw the addition of a sixth member), they rendered any music from the Bends, not to mention, its predecessor Pablo Honey, the album that spawned “Creep,” irrelevant. In fact, Monday night saw no selections of those albums in Radiohead’s set list. A couple of dips into OK Computer sounded like nostalgia, in fact, and set a new tone to the show during the first encore. Really, like its new album, Radiohead felt mellowed out. But below burbled a surface of subtle complexity: a moody but mellow show, punctuated by lyrics of grumbling ambivalence to man’s place in existence. It’s almost a fluke miracle that this band has achieved a popular following so strong that it can sell out an arena on the strength of its name alone.
From my view, way far off in the lower level stands, people mostly sat or stood. Some ate nachos and pretzels and drank beer. The King of Limbs could indeed be the group’s most low-key album to date, and I think it’s a grand, if short work. The quieter and slower the record sounded, the better. A highlight moment has to be the coupling of “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost.” The latter being the stronger of the two. Its pastoral gorgeousness threw me back to Pink Floyd, in the use of acoustic guitar and tweeting birds. It’s probably the album’s slowest song, at that, but, man, when Radiohead ratchets down the mood, they know how to do it.
Though I posted about what was then the surprise announcement of the new album (Radiohead’s new full-length out this Saturday), I never offered later opinions on it. For the record, my views on the King of Limbs has wavered over these months. I have spun the biodegradablely packaged “newspaper” 10–inch vinyl edition only once. I was quite annoyed by the interruption of the track flow between “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost,” and feel so strong about it, I might just get the 12-inch version for home listening. In the end, King lacks the dynamism of In Rainbows, but it still has the intelligent and distinctive songcraft one might expect from Radiohead, and they play mellow so well, even if the beats get hyper.
So how did the album translate live? Radiohead even performed every song from the album except “Little By Little,” probably the weakest and most annoying track on the album, anyhow. I will jump ahead to their keen live version of the album’s closer, “Separator,” which closed the band’s first set:
By now you will have noticed the visual side of this show. Like the In Rainbows Tour (the only Radiohead show I have caught since I saw them open up for Belly in support of Pablo Honey in Miami Beach) video screens were a key element. That show happened two counties to the north, in West Palm Beach, at the Cruzan Amphitheater. But the drive was certainly worth it. That show featured a light show that trumped the venue’s jumbotrons, which were shut off for the duration of the performance. The set came alive with varying close-up images of the band members, as they performed, which pulsed in an array of colors. I made my own videos, way off from the front of the lawn, and it still looked cool. Here’s one of those, which though cut, highlights their use of screens during that tour, four years earlier:
This one is a particular favorite due to the fact that even a plane flying overhead did not do anything to break the mood:
More videos I recorded that night can be found on YouTube that show it was one of the few performances that still paid off from a distance. The show last night also worked thanks to the screen use. During last night’s show, as many as 12 different angles of the band members shifted and floated into an array of positions on the square screens, flashing in various color templates for each song. It made for a dynamic experience and helped highlight the subtleties between the songs. The only time all the screens folded away came during the presentation of one of two new songs, “Cut a Hole,” hinting at its work-in-progress state. Radiohead fans in the presence of its debut in a live setting may have wet themselves, but I found the track rather uneventful. I would have to hear it a few more times to pass solid judgement, and, who knows the band might change it up. Luckily, someone standing up front recorded it for yourselves to judge:
I did happen to record the other new song of the night, “Identikit,” which had a nice building, dynamic quality:
The screens on stage did not always focus on the band. Besides abstract images, frontman Thom Yorke’s face filled them up during “You and Whose Army?”
But the highlight is indeed the music, which proves to be something beyond pop music and trendy hipster rock. Radiohead is among a very few group of bands that still holds my attention, since I first heard them in the early nineties. There is a classic quality to its music that harkens to British rock’s early forays in redefining pop music with experimentation popularized by the likes of the Beatles and carried on by King Crimson and David Bowie. The seriousness of the musicians’ awareness of this was on full display in Miami last night, and it only left me looking forward to more. Here are the other videos I captured that night:
I was surprised to see a sell out show at the AAA in Miami because of the largely low-key experience that is King of Limbs, which did not receive close to as much critical praise and hype as In Rainbows. If the focus on the new album, minus “Little By Little,” did not establish a tone for this show, I do not know what did.
This was a show for diehard Radiohead fans. There was even the inclusion of OK Computer B-side “Meeting in the Aisle,” a mellow, mood-setting instrumental that fit cozily among the King of Limbs tracks. Though I was surrounded by what indeed seemed locals, I had noticed many commenting on Radiohead boards before the show that they were coming from out of town for this show, seeing as it was the kick-off to the band’s US tour in support of the King of Limbs. The coverage was swift and even saw YouTube videos and set list recordings as the show unfolded at the fansite At Ease. Though my wife (she’s the photographer here) and I kept track of the songs during the show, here is the set list courtesy of At Ease, which I verified based on my notes for accuracy. This is correct:
02. The Daily Mail
03. Morning Mr. Magpie
05. The National Anthem
06. Meeting In The Aisle
07. Kid A
08. The Gloaming
10. You And Whose Army?
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
20. Cut A Hole (new song debut)
21. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
22. Give Up The Ghost (with a false start)
24. Karma Police
My only complaint would be the cavernous sound of the arena, adding an echo that felt annoying. Play any video I captured in 2008 at the open-air Cruzan and compare it to these to hear for yourself.
The show went on for nearly two hours, following the enchanting support act Other Lives, from Oklahoma. Be sure to arrive on time in order to not miss this chamber rock ensemble, who employ effective use of glockenspiel, cello and violin as well as more traditional rock instruments like guitars and piano. It all swells and rides along nicely and seems to fit in well with today’s folk/psyche/dream-pop indie rock scene. Here are two videos I recorded from their brief, shamefully ignored set (apologies for the chatter around these recordings):
Other Lives found another good fit as the warm up act to Bon Iver prior to taking on the task as opener for Radiohead. They were excellent and the complexity of the band set up did justice to the recordings. The band has offered both of the songs I captured above as free live streams on the band’s website.
You can see the remaining Radiohead tour dates here.