I could easily limit this recap of Radiohead‘s appearance last night at the Verizon Center to what you see above—-Andi Watson‘s cerebral, retina-singeing light display, captured in glorious .gif form. Watson, a lighting and stage director who’s worked with Radiohead since the mid-1990s, approaches his sets as an equal creative partner in the planning of each tour. Watson told me last year that after talking to the band and listening to its music, “I get pictures in my head of what should be going on while the band is playing—of the ideal color, and the dynamic and where light should be coming from.” Last night, Watson’s set involved two backdrops that luminesced like violent datascapes, and a cloud of monitors that hung above the band, flashing images of them as they played, and rearranging with each new song. It was stunning—-the best-looking Radiohead show I’ve seen.
The set underscored what remains so dizzying every time I see Radiohead in an arena or large venue—-even though Radiohead has been an arena band for 15 years. Last night the band was all good humor—-“Hey, wuz happening?” asked frontman Thom Yorke after the band opened with the jazzy, prismatic “Bloom”—-but not at all populist. The set was heavy on morose, abstract compositions from the band’s last two records, and light on its alt-rock-era hits. (We got “Paranoid Android,” and that was enough.) At one point, Yorke punched the air in triumph, and during several songs, guitarist Ed O’Brien beckoned the crowd to clap or shout; the set also included several new, post-King of Limbs songs and one serious deep cut, the instrumental “Meeting in the Aisle.”
Call it the accumulation of years of goodwill: Radiohead’s fans give the band a lot of rope, and in the case of shows like last night’s, are rewarded for it. The addition of a sixth member on some songs, trip-hop veteran Clive Deamer, gave favorites like “Airbag” some vaguely hip-hop heft while allowing the band to reinvent other numbers with an eye for the ornate. If Yorke was honestly surprised when he said, “Hey, you are all strangely bonkers,” I don’t believe him.
See Erica Bruce‘s slideshow of photos from the show here.
Top animation by Louis Weeks. Photo by Erica Bruce