Radiohead: Soaring melodies and analog noise at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley

Radiohead: Soaring melodies and analog noise at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley

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For Radiohead’s second night in the picturesque Greek Theatre, we were blessed with a beautiful and balmy evening in Berkeley. The opening act, Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis, an Israeli cross-cultural project came on at 6:30pm sharp and played an entertaining set. As with most things Radiohead, it was a tasteful, off-the-wall choice for a supporting act.

But by 7:30pm, the anticipation for Thom Yorke and the rest of the band was tremendous. Joining Yorke was the usual touring lineup of Ed O’Brien, Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway, and guest drummer Clive Deamer. They opened with three songs from their latest album, “A Moon Shaped Pool:” “Daydreaming,” “Desert Island Disk”, and “Ful Stop.”  Radiohead’s live sets are  always a fluid, unpredictable trip through their full discography. Of the 25 song set, only 6 came from their latest album. High points in the set were a powerful rendition of “Airbag” from “OK Computer,” which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its release this year, and “There There,” from “Hail to the Thief.”

A six piece band with bass, two drummers, and three guitarists conjures images of prog rock at its worst, but the way Radiohead deploys its musicians is what makes them unique, and for a band with three guitarists, their sound is very un-guitar like. Jonny Greenwood tortures and twists his guitar into the sounds that you hear on their post-“Kid A” albums, and Ed O’Brien is continuously adjusting the speed/duration of his sampled and looped guitar chords to create noises like those in the outro of “Climbing Up The Walls.” Together with the two drummers (Portishead drummer Clive Deamer doubling up with Phil Selway), the overall performance is amazingly “analog,” Yes, there is clearly midi sync between the drum beats and the delay loops, but no sequencing or pre-recorded noises that I could detect. It was real-time performance art and not the “off-line programming” that many EDM acts specialize in.
But the most memorable moment of the night might well be Yorke’s “save” of the delicate song “Give up the Ghost”. While laying down the backing loops, Yorke looked across to Jonny Greenwood and punctuated the vocal track with the expletive “Aaaw Sheeeit” –  which then looped around every 8 bars for the rest of the performance. Apart from a fit of giggles, he played through to the end of the song to the delighted whoops and cheers of the audience. What a pro. Watch the video here:

Overall, it was an evening full of outstanding creativity, musicianship and showmanship, covering the spectrum from grungy indie guitar rock through EDM, and even Krautrock. If you ever have the chance to see Radiohead perform live, I highly recommend it, no matter your taste in musical genres.