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Soaring, whining and moaning. These three words pretty much cover Thom Yorke’s vocal style. And for two hours at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Radiohead frontman soared, whined and moaned himself through an epileptic performance, the crowd responding with fits of ecstasy.
An unlikely rock star at the best of times, Yorke’s strange looks have always been the band’s motif. And the passive-aggressive kings of British experimental rock ushered in their act in fitting fashion. Yorke’s face was projected onto screens behind the group that resembled fragments of a shattered mirror, with a nose here, an eyebrow there, and more eyes than one might expect. As he launched the set with the ghostly ‘You And Whose Army’, his pale and slightly mutant features peered down intensely at the audience from the screen.
The show unveiled a series of new songs, the first of which, ‘15 step’ indicated yet another radical departure for this eclectic band. Run through with a percussive clap, it begun with a curiously upbeat Yorke spitting out punchy vocals, before returning to the group’s trademark swooping vocals and acid lyrics, singing “Did the cat get your tongue?”
The new Radiohead has a funky, bluesy tinge but keeps the beat-orientated feel of their last few records. Later, another new tune, ‘Bangers’n’mash’, saw Yorke on a small, second set of drums driving a pacy, thumping number.
But while they chose to rework some more recent hits, including a fantastic, pared-down version of ‘2+2=5’ from Hail to the Thief, they were less interested in their older classics. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, while eliciting a shout of ‘Thom, you fucking rock!’ from an excited fan, felt flat in comparison. A crowd-pleasing rendition of ‘The Bends’ also seemed to be played by numbers, and certainly the band didn’t get too worked up in knocking it out.
Towards the end, an excellent, moody version of ‘There, There’ stood out, Yorke drawling the typically misanthropic line “Just cos you feel it doesn’t mean its there.”
Radiohead don’t do ego or bravado when they perform. They’re not capable of being cool – no skinny ties or ironic moustaches for them. And they certainly don’t like publicity. But then, judging by this gig, they don’t play bad music either.
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