The first time I saw Radiohead, it was opening up for Belly, back when “Creep” was an exquisite oddball of a radio hit.
Actually, it wasn’t so much opening for Belly as it was a double bill, but Radiohead played first and Thom Yorke had a platinum rock star hairdo and the band was touring on an unspectacular album with a title gleaned from a Jerky Boy’s joke.
None of it seemed to hint much towards a band on the cusp of becoming an audio force of nature for the coming decades. Even still, by the time it finished its set with “Stop Whispering,” Radiohead had worked the crowd into a tidy frenzy.
Playing the HP Pavilion in San Jose on Wednesday night, it showcased the full range of its music since: an amazingly dynamic body of work – from the Bends to the new track “Identikit” – which gave sonic testimony to Radiohead’s outlier longevity from the grungy but fertile musical era from which it sprang.
Working through nearly two-dozen songs beneath a pulsing onslaught of color and video, it rendered a high-energy performance from an eclectic setlist that was at once a gem for fanatics and a thrill for the casual fans that they dragged along.
From the get-go, Thom Yorke was all king of limbs as he wriggle-danced his way through beat-heavy tracks like “15 Step” and the “Gloaming,” before eventually settling into the larger vocal parts of a stripped-down “Reckoner” and an amped-up “Daily Mail.”
Talkative and punchy-as-expected, Yorke dedicated the Amnesiac-era b-side “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” to the players of the economic meltdown and the “Silicon Valley bullshit” that factored into it. Here, the band played to other local forces, as it nestled into the aberrant niche between Primus and Tom Waits, equally eerie and menacing.
It was this darker end of their spectrum that provided some of the night’s standout moments, from the four-drummer assault of “There There” to the infectious pulse of “Myxomatosis.” However the best of the bunch may have been the hefty moodiness of “Climbing Up the Walls,” an OK Computer favorite that soon gave way to “Karma Police.”
The encores, in particular, were likely to provide fans with hours of chat-room fodder, as the band dusted off some rare live takes on “I Might Be Wrong” and “Planet Telex,” before ending the night with a ferocious version of “Idioteque.”
Poised to play Coachella this coming weekend, Radiohead appears in fine fighting form to somehow top its near-legendary 2004 performance. And that’s just the thing with where it’s at these days: for all that can be said about what it has done over the past 20 years, Radiohead still has a knack to leave you excited for what’s next.
Morning Mr. Magpie
The National Anthem
The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
Climbing up the Walls
Little By Little
I Might Be Wrong
Everything in its Right Place
The Daily Mail
All photos by Charles Russo.