By Olivia Isenhart
“It just seems like they can do no wrong,” someone nearby murmured from deep within the crowd. It was clearly more than one person who felt that way. The mere presence of Radiohead brought over 18,000 people to a rigid standing position in NYC’s Madison Square Garden last night, with the kind of irrepressible devotion usually reserved for church. You could hear their feet hit the floor like one big clap of thunder, just before they let out a unison scream. The fixated fans were soon rewarded with “Burn the Witch,” and from Radiohead’s very first note, even the thought of sitting down again felt sacrilegious.
Part of that is because a Radiohead concert doesn’t quite feel like a concert. It’s fleeting and secret, with more than enough mystery to keep you on your toes. The overall effect last night, fueled both by the intimate setup and their frequent instrument changes between songs, was more like you were peering through a keyhole to witness a private rehearsal. Radiohead’s stage design seemed to leverage just a fraction of the space available, the halfway point filled with screens projecting real-time closeups of each musician’s hands as they played. With Thom Yorke’s endearing disregard for small talk, the illusion of a sneak peek was even stronger. There was no grand introduction or even a perceptible “hello” – just song after song that sent their fans into a frenzy.
And if their devotion was evident, their gods were just as clear. Yorke’s ferocious, angelic vocals soared over the constant hum of the rhythm section, keeping the crowd heavily hooked through the crests and falls of each hit. The love spread right out to the rest of the group, with brothers Colin Greenwood (bass) and Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar and keys) pouring themselves into each build, and drummers Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway right in synch on the beat. After surging through the first 5 tracks of 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead gave us glimpses of their full discography, from “Lotus Flower” to “15 Step” (which made its tour debut last night) to “2+2=5” to “Idioteque.” The tight-knit band led each one to a devastating peak just before it was over, which made you wish that every song was actually 12 minutes long (and the curfew wasn’t 11:30).
Of course, there was nothing that could dissuade the audience from requesting an encore–and then, a second one. There was almost no choice; the eruption of noise felt like it was getting into riot territory after just a few moments without Radiohead onstage. Their first return brought us “Let Down” (performed for the first time since 2006), as well as “Present Tense,” “Paranoid Android,” “Nude,” and “Bodysnatchers.” When the second encore became a reality, fans were thrilled to find themselves sailing through “Bloom” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” with the band. “You’d like to stay all night, right?” Yorke asked everyone gently–one of the longest sentences he’d spoken since the evening began. But from the sound of their cheers, they would have gladly camped out there for the rest of the month. He smiled back at them quietly. And then they were gone.