Thom Yorke reaches inward.
Story and Photos by Tony BonyataAlthough the temperatures threatened to hit a hundred last Wednesday in Chicago, it could have been 30 degrees cooler and still logged in as one of the hottest evenings this city has seen in years, when rock music's latest glimmer of hope, Radiohead graced the stage at Hutchinson Field on the city's lakefront.
As the field's inaugural concert, Radiohead and their legions of young, laid-back fans - pushing the 25,000 mark - helped the park pass the test as one of the city's future premier concert venues. Not only was Chicago's magnificent cityscape the perfect backdrop for this concert setting, but the sound was impeccable, as if two large headphones were comfortably slipped over the park and neatly turned to 'eleven.'
With a cool lake breeze that helped temper the sweltering heat, Radiohead took to the enormous stage devoid of cliché treatments, except for two large video screens flanking each side, that featured artfully directed shots of the band throughout the evening. They immediately proceeded to put the city in a squirming headlock with their pandemonium of dissonance on the opening number "The National Anthem," from their album Kid A. As lead singer Thom Yorke, slackly clad in bland T-shirt and pants with unkempt red facial stubble, jerked and convulsed without saying a word, the hypnotic rock rhythms combined with electro-blurts and avant garde jazz musings proved the perfect intro to a perfect show.
Yorke, along with guitarist and 'keeper of the box' Jonny Greenwood, rhythm guitarist Ed O'Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway glided through 25 songs that touched on all five of their albums, which have seen them grow from young Brit-popsters to modern day art-rockers, before finally settling into their current residency as musical groundbreakers willing to pitch their rock text books out the window and forge headfirst into uncharted territories.
While newer material such as "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box," with Colin's coagulating bass-line, "Everything In It's Right Place," with Yorke's ever ethereal vocals floating about, and the jangley "Knives Out" all were played with an almost clinical preciseness, the lads left enough room for human improvisation in their dynamics, as they tripped on a few toys left on the floor. One of the highlights of the evening was "Idioteque," where the amphetamine pumped beats taunted at Yorke's mortality - throwing him into uncontrollable spastic fits. Even with its grand wall of sound, this number had enough unidentifiable sounds crawling within the framework to make even uncle Eno comfortable enough to move in for a spell.
Gazing into the sky Yorke dedicated the lonesome "Pyramid Song" to the moon, before sitting at a piano with his back to the crowd as a fisheye lens projected his sly facial gestures to the audience on the video screens.
But fans of their older material weren't forgotten as Jonny put down his electro-gadgets long enough to send his guitar shrapnel flying every which way on the pounding 'My Iron Lung," as well as the epic "Paranoid Android," which even though had to be restarted after Yorke flubbed the words, turned out beautifully as his haunting voice climbed towards the skies. They also covered some of their most vulnerable, fragile works such as "No Surprise," featuring Jonny on a rudimentary yet quite effective xylophone, "Fake Plastic Trees," and the unreleased "True Love Waits," a song that Yorke performed alone on acoustic guitar, explaining that it was "something we've been kicking around since OK Computer, and we still don't know what to do with it." And for the faithful they also managed to pull out a majestic take on "Lucky" and "Street Spirit" during their 8 song encore.
Hallucinatory without side effects, rejuvenating and thought-provoking without pretension, Chicago got a brief glimpse of the future, and it's name was Radiohead.
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