Wednesday, July 11, 2018

An Interstellar Burst: Saturday Night in Chicago, Radiohead Largely Delights, Despite Some Static -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Junun
July 7 (also played 7/6)
United Center, Chicago

Per more than a few--though hopefully not enough to cause permanent damage--perusals of the divisive and derisive netherworld known as the internet comments section, it would seem there are but two prevailing opinions about the British rock band, Radiohead.

Either they are absolutely brilliant and can do no wrong or they are infinitely overrated and deathly boring.

So I guess in writing this review of their concert Saturday at Chicago's United Center--their second of two sold out shows--I should apologize upfront to the outrageously aggrieved on both sides of the spectrum, for it would seem my perspective is not in fact permissible.

Especially as, in these hyper-polarized times, it seems we are not allowed to espouse any negative thoughts about the things we "love" nor positive ones about that which we "hate."

As I intrepidly charge ahead, I--theoretically--much more fall into "Radiohead rules" camp than the "Radiohead sucks" crowd.

And yet, some of my thoughts--that the band can be dour, self-indulgent and dull--would likely get me thrown out of the former camp, like a gypsy radioheaded to the vast but forboding middle ground.

Even more taboo, seemingly, would be to openly admit that I like pre-21st century, guitar-driven Radiohead more than the endlessly experimental new millennium version.

I've liked, even loved, the band enough to have now seen them live 10 times over the past 20 years, yet their penchant for filling setlists with--what I consider--discordant, somewhat esoteric material while eschewing low-hanging glories from Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer has posed something of a fence-straddling problem.

And I imagine there's nothing more heretical to the Radiohead acolytes than to gripe about Thom Yorke & Co. almost never playing "Creep," their 1992 debut single, first hit and--with great regard for much of their catalog, even the more recent albums--still my favorite song of theirs.

I've never heard it live, and per a check of, the band hasn't played the song in Chicago since 1996.

For the record, I've also seen Radiohead in Montreal, Alpine Valley, Indianapolis and, last year, Kansas City.

Likewise part of their tour behind 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool album, I found the KC show outstanding, and though I didn't write a full review, considered it a @@@@@ (out of 5) concert.

Though also quite light on '90s material, it--like Saturday's UC show--dazzled with an impressive audiovisual display.

So good in fact, I thought it cured me from worrying about what I wanted to hear vs. what the band wanted to play.

And let me be clear, far more than not, I loved Saturday's show. (I did not attend Friday's gig, where 20 of 25 songs were different, but its setlist was actually lighter on early material, although "Paranoid Android" and "Fake Plastic Trees" were played.)

The concert Saturday opened with an intriguing set by Junun, which features Radiohead
guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood along with Israeli singer Shye Ben-Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, a group of Indian musicians.

As best I can describe, the mix of Indian and Middle-Eastern music was enchanting, and though it didn't sound like Radiohead, it did suggest where the band--and particularly Greenwood--draw some of their musical inspiration.

As with most of the shows on this tour, including Friday's, Radiohead's set began rather demurely with "Daydreaming" from A Moon Shaped Pool, which was abetted midway through by a brilliant lighting display (see the first photo above).

"Desert Island Disk" and "Ful Stop" are similarly new songs enhanced by exciting lighting, and after the enjoyable "Myxomatosis" from 2003's Hail to the Thief came "Lucky" off of 1997's masterful OK Computer.

Compared to some prior Radiohead shows I've attended, I heard a relative lot of tunes from that album, including also "Exit Music (for a Film)," "Climbing the Walls," "Airbag" and the closing "Karma Police."

Two more came off The Bends--"My Iron Lung" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"--so while there were a few songs that tested my patience, I can't really complain about what was played.

"The National Anthem" and "2+2=5" in the first encore were also great highlights, and pushed a show I might have given @@@@ up an extra 1/2@.

Though it felt like "Creep" would have been an idyllic way to close a pair of sold out Chicago arena shows 25 years after Radiohead first played the Metro, "Karma Police" was sweet, and my not quite being blown away--to a full @@@@@---wasn't really about the setlist.

Perhaps my hearing what it once was, but from my seat in Section 303 of the United Center, the sound seemed a bit muted.

Songs like "My Iron Lung" and "Airbag" just didn't blow my head off like they should have.

And some of the more esoteric stuff--"Feral," "Separator," "The Gloaming"--likely also suffered sonically.

Yes, I had a far away, high up seat at the lower of two price levels, but my vantage point for Depeche Mode a month ago at the UC was even worse, and they sounded phenomenal.

So while I'm not really too concerned with what the Radiohead lovers, or haters, may think, this review reflects my personal experience on this particular night.

If you were at either Chicago show--or both--and found it absolutely phenomenal, I'm glad you did.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a great band once again, but not only do I suggest they get in touch with Depeche Mode's sound engineer, but--damn the torpedoes--I sure wish they had played "Creep."

Here's a clip of "Lucky" that was posted to YouTube by godieinhell2:

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