Last Night: Radiohead At Toyota Center
See more photos from Saturday night in our slideshow.
Radiohead just doesn't add up. The band has effectively turned its back on the music business, pioneering alternative methods of distribution of its music to fans (most of it online), short-circuiting the traditional promotional apparatus by releasing last year's The King of Limbs exactly a week after they announced its existence, and spending at least the previous decade exploring and refining their interests in electronic and avant-garde music.
Yet there they were Saturday, selling out the same arena where Nickelback and Coldplay - two bands who have followed a considerably more conservative model, both in business and songwriting - will play here in a few months. Either Radiohead knows something bands like that don't, or they are grifters who would make late Texas-born author Jim Thompson proud.
There was probably very little Saturday to contradict once-ardent fans of the band's beloved guitar-heavy albums The Bends and OK Computer who think, to borrow an expression from Radiohead's home country, that they have been up their own arse for a while. But there were moments where Radiohead's esoteric, challenging music also made great arena-rock theater - who knew Kid A's frenetic electronica track "Idioteque" would make such an excellent clapalong?
Heavy on irregular time signatures, electronic and regular drums - at times there were four people playing drums onstage, including Portishead's Clive Deamer - and songs pasted together by sequencers, vintage keyboards and whatever it was that looked like an old-timey telephone switchboard Jonny Greenwood was using when not playing guitar, most of the set was more performance art than rock and roll.
Add the LED backdrop, multiple flatscreen monitors hung overhead and pastel-heavy color scheme, and it felt more like something you'd see at the Contemporary Arts Museum than a sports arena. Maybe Radiohead should look into a show at MOMA in New York, although it's too bad Kraftwerk got there first.
But even for someone not terribly familiar with the newer material, it was still recognizably Radiohead: The throbbing bass pulse of Limbs' "Little By Little," front man Thom Yorke's wounded howl on solo-piano setpiece "Codex," the Phillip Glass-like wash of ambient guitars and keyboards of In Rainbows' "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi."