Radio Shy

Kicking off their spring tour here in Houston, Radiohead have broken the record for the fastest sellout in Aerial Theater's brief history, packing the place faster than even the reunited Jane's Addiction could. This from a band with only one hit single in the last five years ("Creep") and extremely limited airplay potential since.

The British quintet has subsisted quite well on an increasingly brilliant and challenging studio oeuvre, a string of clever videos and more critical raves of late than any "alternative" artist since Beck. OK Computer was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, and won in the Alternative Album category. CD sales, of course, were boosted by that recognition; that was also the case when both Spin and Rolling Stone named Radiohead Band of the Year.

Even in the lofty British tradition of the rock and roll concept album, OK Computer is an ambitious effort. Stepping away from their straight-arrow, modern-rock past, Radiohead fuse Pink Floydian psychedelia and Clash-style pop-punk with soaring acoustic interludes and portions of epic noise for an ungainly meditation on technophobic paranoia. Throughout the disc, modern life is thrown under a microscope, its operator driven by disgust. Xylophones, strings, synthesizers, shimmering guitars and gorgeous melodies disguise tragicomic sentiments. It's high-concept, to be sure, a grand-scale album in an era when only small-scale singles seem to matter.

All of which explains why OK Computer's success has been as steady as it's been gradual. It seems only months ago that Radiohead's American fan base was anchored by record store clerks and music journalists. But, judging from the Aerial's packed house, that's changing. Apparently, word has spread about the group's cathartic live performances. Led by frontman Thom Yorke's intense, herky-jerky stage persona, Radiohead refuse to hold back, pushing the boundaries of their songs into dark recesses, then exhuming the tattered remains and showing them off under the spotlight. Indeed, a Radiohead show has the potential to be the concert experience that prompts the newly converted to make enthusiastic late-night phone calls to those who first convinced them to take a chance on the band.

Risk-takers in their own right, openers Spiritualized peddle a sleepy style of blissed-out space rock that's alternately experimental and listenable -- a rare combination. The U.K. outfit is led by Jason Pierce, formerly of Spacemen 3, cult faves into "taking drugs to make music to take drugs to." Not surprisingly, much of the group's latest release, the critically lauded Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, is ambient, designed to enhance whatever the listener's mood. Live, however, Spiritualized are apt to crank up the volume; they've toured with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, after all.

-- David Simutis

Radiohead perform Saturday, March 28, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas Avenue. Doors open at 7 p.m. Sold out. Spiritualized opens. For info, call 629-3700.

Johnnie Taylor -- Johnnie Taylor's music falls under the category "barroom blues": On-stage, his booming vocals are substantial enough to reach even those too drunk to remember where they live. The Arkansas native cut his teeth singing doo-wop in the '50s with groups such as the Five Echoes and the Soul Stirrers, the latter of which he joined when a then-obscure singer named Sam Cooke decided to go solo. Ironically, it was Cooke who wooed Taylor into his first real solo gig for the former's own label, where Taylor recorded the classic "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" in 1962. The biggest hit of his career came in 1969 with "Who's Making Love," released on the legendary Stax imprint. Taylor also scored with "Disco Lady" in 1975, though his strengths as a singer were compromised by the mirror-ball shenanigans. By 1984, he'd gotten his blues legs back with Malaco Records, recording a bevy of albums on the label, including his most recent effort, 1996's Good Love. One of a blues/soul breed that includes Luther Ingram, Bobby "Blue" Bland and his like-named rival, Little Johnny Taylor, Taylor is the real deal. At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Tickets are $35. Tyrone Davis opens. 988-1020. (Craig D. Lindsey)

Ben Harper -- It's easy for outsiders to dismiss Ben Harper's California boho-chic as derivative of Lenny Kravitz. But Harper's fans know better. In fact, anyone who's listened to Harper's two albums (Welcome to the Cruel World and his latest, The Will to Live) ought to know that this stylistic dabbler has the ability to channel the creative loose ends of everyone from Robert Johnson to Peter Tosh to Woody Guthrie via his sprawling, hit-and-miss brand of exotic guitar folk. On Sunday, March 29, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.50. David Garza open. 862-7580. (