Perhaps it was the fact that Thursday night marked Radiohead’s final North American tour stop of 2008. Maybe it was simply that, for three-and-a-half hours, those in attendance at the sold-out show knew they were somewhere that nearly everyone else wanted to be. But I will continue to posit that the reason Colin, Ed, Phil, Jonny, and Thom collectively put on such an amazing concert is simply because they’re Radiohead, playing the tiny-by-comparison Bowl, for not only the 4,500-plus bodies in attendance, but the millions who tuned in to see the whole thing go down online instead of watching Barack Obama’s candidacy acceptance speech.
Liars at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Following a short-but-sweet opening set by New York’s most buzzed about garage rockers, Liars (and a 30-minute lull for sound checking), the lights went dim and the place exploded in synth, piano, and unbridled anticipation. The lads kicked things off with little more than a hello, launching into the one-two punch of In Rainbows‘ “Reckoner” and Kid-A‘s “Optimistic.” Where eerily perfect drumlines and haunting vocals drove songs like “There There” and “Everything Is In Its Right Place” to near ecstatic completion, melodic guitar hooks and simmering reverb made tracks like “15 Step” and “Lucky” hit even harder when they exploded in their final moments.
Sitting at his piano at the start of the first encore, Yorke introduced one of the evening’s many stand-out moments, saying, “This one, if I remember it, is from The Eraser” before gently pounding and crying his way through “Cymbal Rush.” It was during those five minutes that the sheer power behind Yorke’s words and the aching beauty of his voice came together for many. With eyes clinched and body swaying, he looked like some unwitting vehicle for the sounds he was producing - and the result was nothing short of breathtaking.
As spectacular as the sound and set list were, credit must be given to the two lesser recognized highlights of the night’s show - the technically tricked out light show and Yorke’s incomprehensibly enviable dance moves. While the frontman spent a good chunk of his evening maniacally swaying and convulsing through songs with undeniable glee, it was the countless hanging columns of light that threatened to steal the show. Keeping time with even the most electronically complex and gadget-heavy of the band’s offerings, these glowing stalactites bathed the amphitheater in dazzling colors and punctuated each note as they danced across the stage.
Radiohead at the Santa Barbara Bowl
By the end, they’d played a smattering of old favorites - including the still-electrifying title track off of 1995’s The Bends and a ruckus rendition of “Paranoid Android.” The diehards lost their minds watching “Lucky” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place” come to near-perfect life in front of their very eyes. And even I will proudly admit to tearing up during “All I Need” - and coming close during the delicate piano intro to “Videotape.” But most importantly, the lads from Oxfordshire proved why exactly they are the highest praised - and hardest ticket to come by - in the world. Between the band’s collective artistic integrity, genuine individual talents, and undeniable drive to find perfection, it’s no wonder (and no problem) that the size of Radiohead’s star has reached such colossal proportions. Then again, I didn’t have to throw down $500 to get in.
3. “There There”
4. “15 Step”
5. “All I Need”
7. “Talk Show Host”
8. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”
9. “The Gloaming”
10. “Morning Bell”
11. “The National Anthem”
12. “Faust Arp”
13. “No Surprises”
14. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
15. “The Bends”
16. “Karma Police”
18. “Cymbal Rush”
19. “House Of Cards”
20. “Paranoid Android”
21. “Go Slowly”
22. “Everything In Its Right Place”