Saturday Night: Radiohead in the Woodlands

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Check out our slideshow of Radiohead in the Woodlands...

Radiohead May 17, 2008 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Better Than: Mindlessly spending the economic stimulus check Dubya so graciously decided to give back to us.

Download: The original soundtrack for last years Daniel Day-Lewis juggernaut There Will Be Blood, in which guitarist Jonny Greenwood created grim audioscapes perfect for milkshake drinking and land grabbing, with a nod to Wendy Carlos’ Kubrick scores.

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been over a decade since OK Computer eclipsed modern rock and gave birth to a culture of decay and detachment from society. That band didn’t seem long for this world, but they left their boots in the proverbial mud and instead turned around and came back with Kid A, a near-complete reworking of the earlier model, with an army of synths and foreboding Kraut-drone replacing most human traces. That album ruined millions of kids on guitars and had them sitting on floors pushing effects pedals and turning knobs slowly like auditory savants.

As this band ages, subtle nuisances become ever more apparent. Lead singer Thom Yorke, a gnome of a man, danced like a miniature electro David Byrne on Saturday night, and his falsetto has marinated from a boyish yelp into a Bryan Ferry croon. This was especially evident on “Nude,” which has been tooled around on since at least 1998 and is the band’s first “cheating” ballad. Under vibrant red LED lights in the Woodlands, the song took on sinisterly jazzy mood, just as a cool breeze came in under the pavilion. The band had cameras set up in small intricate places, under mike stands or attached to light fixtures that capture previously unseen symbiotic relations between band members: facial ticks, head nods, eyes sealed shut in concentration. This was more a recital between a group of friends in a rehearsal space than a rock show.

“Optimistic” became a sing-along, with the entire sold-out crowd, including a teeming lawn population, harmonizing with Yorke on the high parts like a choir of indie hippies and fresh scrubbed college kids.

Many times during the show, like during a fresh New Order-style reworking of “Everything In Its Right Place,” we heard the more hidden dance-oriented inclinations the band harbors. Makes you wonder if the band won’t eventually take the suburban lyrics of In Rainbows and slap them onto a drum machine and record their own Power, Corruption and Lies. This was the part of the show that highlighted guitarist Jonny Greenwood and his mini mission control set up at stage right. He had at least two Mac laptops, blinking buttons galore and two vintage-looking synths. He was just a mop of black hair throughout.

During love song “All I Need,” couples held each other close and some slowly made out on the grass in a tussle of smoke-scented hair and American Apparel cotton, with the plaintive simple piano keys plinking and etching across the night air. For Radiohead, songs like this and the adulterous key-party stab of “House of Cards” reminded us that behind all the poli-sci and 21st century dread, there still lurks a group of five men who know how to sing about the stuff that rock was forged with.

The band’s second to last song was “You and Whose Army?” and Yorke was in full theatrical mode, preening and smirking into the camera lens implanted in his piano. He was menacingly staring directly into our faces, and that made the show all that more thrilling.

Personal Bias: I was the kid in high school who skipped school the day Kid A came out and drove to the record store with all the other geeks from the broadcast journalism class.

Random Detail: Guitarist Ed O’Brien looks like he could be a stunt double for John Krasinski from “The Office.”

By the Way: The tour T-shirts were made from recycled plastics that are blended into cotton and feel ridiculously soft. I guess this saving the Earth has its benefits. – Craig Hlavaty

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