Radiohead, Roseland Ballroom, New York City
Hail to the kings of reinvention
Tuesday 04 October 2011
More than 10 years on from the flummoxed looks that greeted Kid A's release, it seems as though Radiohead have finally learned the difficult art of pitching a curveball to the fan base. Last February they rematerialised with typical stealth and unleashed The King of Limbs – their most abstract collection for some time – with barely a word of explanation, context or live activity. Even after a decade in which fans have become used to them slaloming between styles and wilfully experimenting with untried methods of release, the emergence of The King of Limbs seemed particularly inexplicable.
But Radiohead's subsequent sixth-month period of virtual inactivity has allowed those with the inclination to get inside the The King of Limbs, inhabit its sometimes harsh landscapes and discover some of its beautiful secrets without distraction. Having got to know the album a little more intimately, this brace of New York gigs (their first live engagements of the year save for a secret Glastonbury performance) are where this slow-burning relationship with The King of Limbs finally gets consummated.
Instead of confusion, there is elation when the band deliver the sensual hum of "Lotus Flower" or the exhilarating "Morning Mr Magpie", which takes on the form of a mutant funk jam thanks in part to the percussive power of the band's second drummer, Clive Deamer. Even the more impenetrable beats and fractured vocal loops of "Feral" are cues for ecstatic dancing – something which singer Thom Yorke is only too happy to encourage if his snake-hipped sojourns across the stage are any indication.
The fact that such revelry is now the rule rather than the exception at the band's shows is yet another measure of how far removed they are from the miserablist tag ascribed to them during their dalliance with superstardom in the late 1990s. There are tantalising signs, however, that the Oxford outfit are already looking to move on to pastures new.
The gothic synths of "Staircase" and "Supercollider", especially, seem to hint at a possible exploration of early-Eighties cold wave and European electronica (something that's corroborated by the suitably Teutonic side-parting currently being sported by guitarist Ed O'Brien). But as tempting as it is to anticipate the next part of Radiohead's musical trajectory, it's worth taking a moment to savour where they are now. The band and their followers haven't always been in the same headspace recently, but as tonight demonstrates, witnessing the two align so closely is a rare thrill.
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