Radiohead at Sprint Center in Kansas City, 3/11/12

Sprint Center, Kansas City
Sunday, March 11, 2012

With Radiohead continuing to ignore the Twin Cities for some unknown, annoying reason (14+ years and counting), Kansas City was the closest the band would get during the first leg of their 2012 U.S. tour for The King Of Limbs. So, 18,000 music fans from all over the Midwest and beyond packed into the sold-out Sprint Center on a drizzly Sunday evening to catch a two-hour + set from one of modern rock's most beloved bands.

And while parts of Radiohead's performance certainly took on the gloomy, languid quality of the local weather, they still delivered a captivating 22-song set which was augmented by a stunning stage setup, comprised of 12 movable screens that provided intimate close-ups of the group and a vivid, multi-colored digital backdrop which perfectly complimented the changing mood of the music.

The performance was naturally quite heavy on the band's recent material (with everything from Limbs being played except its best ("Codex") and worst ("Little By Little) tracks), but the band added an expansive, more experimental edge to their new songs which gave them more punch than the recorded versions. Radiohead have obviously undergone an evolution over the years which has left some of their longtime fans either scratching their heads or staying home, and it is quite clear that rhythm drives the band now rather than guitars. The group has swelled to a six-piece for this tour, with one-time Portishead/Roni Size drummer Clive Deamer providing an extra pulse to the proceedings which fitfully guides their music ever forward.

Radiohead have long since traded in the discernible riffs and melodies from their early work in favor of crafting a tangible mood and atmosphere with their music, a point which was made clear with the jazzy, extended intro to the slow-burning opener "Bloom." They are far more interested in pushing the boundaries of what a pop song can be rather than merely repeating themselves, and at times that doesn't make for easy listening, but they certainly take you on an interesting journey into sight and sound if you chose to follow them down the rabbit hole.

Bassist Colin Greenwood spent the entire show at the back of the stage between both of the drummers, locking in with Phil Selway and Deamer to form the dynamic rhythms that sonic experiments like "15 Step" and "Morning Mr. Magpie" demand. Frontman Thom Yorke bounded smoothly from guitar to the piano during the haunting lullaby of "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," and stayed at the keys for a stirring trio of songs which featured moving renditions of "All I Need," "Pyramid Song," and a feisty run through of "The Daily Mail," which Yorke spitefully dedicated to Rupert Murdoch.

The band decided to shake things up with the tour debut of "Supercollider," from their 2011 Record Store Day 12-inch. The track had a new-found swing and energy to it, and soared majestically over the rapt audience, causing Thom to joke afterwards that "Sometimes you gotta just try shit out, you know." Radiohead briefly shifted back into the tranquil spirit that colored the start of the set with a lovely version of "Nude," but that proved to be only a brief  downturn.

Radiohead at Sprint Center in Kansas City, 3/11/12
Photo By Chris Keaschall

Yorke and guitarist Ed O'Brien had an onstage discussion after "Nude," which led to Thom asking, "Should we just do it now," before the band launched into a new track, "Identikit." Thom further introduced the number by mentioning, "Today is random day. It was random when we woke up, random when a dog was barking next to me in the hotel room, it might as well stay random...You'll see. It will all make sense eventually." But the song didn't coalesce properly 30-seconds in, causing Yorke to stop the track with a slow, playful cry of "Ahhhh Shiiiiiittt."

Thankfully they started it again, because "Identikit" is a beast live. The YouTube clips don't really do the track justice, and it swelled to an dynamic, rhythmic conclusion, which was briefly interrupted by the houselights coming on, causing Yorke to shake his head and exclaim "What the fuck." Random day, indeed. The band really caught fire at this point, tearing through a rousing, immense version of "Lotus Flower," a pounding rendition of "There, There" (which featured guitarist Jonny Greenwood and O'Brien joining in on drums), and the wall of bass and discord that is "Feral." 

But the real treat was still coming, as Yorke slowly eased the band into the intoxicating strains of Kid A's "How To Disappear Completely," which swelled elegantly towards its gorgeous conclusion. It was the first time Radiohead played the highly evocative track on tour, and was easily one of the standouts of the evening. An impassioned version of "Reckoner" closed out the main set on a high, as the band left the stage to a rousing ovation that nearly lasted five full minutes.

Radiohead finally returned to the stage for the first encore, and here is where the show truly became special. They opened with the customary "Seperator," with its fitting lyrics of "If you think this is over than you're wrong." But then Thom mentioned, "We had a little chat backstage and decided that we had to do this one," before the band launched into an explosive version of "Myxomatosis" which seemed to light a fuse under both the group and the crowd.

The momentum kept building during the frantic urgency of "Idioteque," and came to a full-boil during the night's first (but not the last) foray into OK Computer, "Lucky." The exquisite track bloomed triumphantly, and sounded pristine on the arena's soundsystem, which was mixed perfectly all evening long. "Everything In Its Right Place" quickly followed, and the first encore closed with both Greenwood and O'Brien alone on the stage, contorting the song even further towards its unsettled edge.

Thom and Jonny returned alone for the second encore for a touching version of "Give Up The Ghost," which featured Yorke looping his own vocals and acoustic guitar riffs to add texture and depth to the fragile song. It was a lovely moment, and caused Thom to warmly proclaim, "Thank you everyone for having us. Sweet dreams." And with that the band launched into the fitful, anti-ambition anthem, "Paranoid Android," which dynamically brought the night to a close.

At this point in their career, it's quite obvious that Radiohead are clearly on a different path now, and have little interest in what type of band they were, only in what they will become. And those that continue to follow them surely will experience plenty of sonic detours and wrong-turns mixed in with the brilliance along the way, but at least the end results won't be predictable or dull.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I like Radiohead enough to drive seven hours to see them perform.

The Crowd: A nice blend of young and old(er) music hipsters. Though the general admission floor area could have fit a couple thousand more people down there (myself included).

Overheard In The Crowd: "Thom needs to lose that ponytail." (Quoting myself here.)

Random Notebook Dump: Other Lives played a stirring half-hour opening set which featured tracks drawn exclusively from Tamer Animals. After just seeing them play in the Entry, it was interesting to hear their warmly intimate songs in such a large venue, but their intricate arrangements truly took flight in the arena, and their dusty, well-worn Americana easily won over the Midwestern audience.


15 Step
Morning Mr Magpie
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
All I Need
Pyramid Song
The Daily Mail
Lotus Flower
There There
How To Disappear Completely

   First Encore:

Everything In Its Right Place

   Second Encore:

Give Up The Ghost
Paranoid Android

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