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Radiohead at New York's Madison Square Garden

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 16, 2018 22:03

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The British rock group Radiohead played four sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden, and I attended the fourth show, which was quite an interesting experience.

There are just a few rock 'n' roll bands that are known for having two drummers: the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and to a lesser extent the New Jersey band the Feelies. One rare British band that features two drummers is Radiohead, and at their fourth show at Madison Square Garden, on July 14, they sometimes had a third band member playing drums as well. 

Perhaps this seems like a strange factoid, but then again, the sound and songs of Radiohead are not quite like the typical output of a more typical rock band. Not many of their songs unfold in a sing-along fashion, in the way of so many other acts.

And in concert this is all the more jarring: Only a few of the 25 songs they played on that Saturday night elicited hearty sing-alongs from the crowd in the way that one would encounter at one of the 99 shows that Billy Joel has played at Madison Square Garden. But the crowd at this Radiohead show still cheered enthusiastically for every song performed.

In fact, one of the very few songs that the audience joined in on was the final number, their top 20 hit "Karma Police" from 1997. They did not play their other best known songs, such as "Creep," "Fake Plastic Trees" or "High and Dry." Instead of big hits and catchy choruses and refrains, the band played a lot of atmospheric, intriguing music that often featured singer Thom Yorke's ethereal vocals, which frequently took on a fragile, raw quality. 

Much of the music the band played at the Saturday night show was of a spacy, swirling and somewhat experimental style; certainly the opening song "Daydreaming" had those qualities front and center. It had a sense of wonder and airiness, a tentative feel that was far from the bombastic kind of opening many bands bring to their shows. 

At times Yorke did not quite hit his notes, which added to the eeriness of the show overall, but some songs had a hard-charging propulsion, such as "Optimistic." But "Kid A," for example, was so loose and odd, yet familiar to fans, so it was more like a musical experiment than a cut played on a typical radio station playlist. 

One thing for sure, the band plays together with a workman-like intensity that really holds your attention. Yet their songs were not full of the lengthy solos you would encounter at a Dead & Company show. Whenever it seemed like a song would go on and on, Radiohead pulled back and did not indulge overlong. 

They have a very special and unique sound, really not quite like any other band out there now. And their opening act, "Junun," was also unusual. Dominated by a mix of South Asian music, Israeli lyrics from singer Shye Ben Tzur, and Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood, this was compelling World Music indeed.

This was my first Radiohead show, and it was definitely thought-provoking. 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 16, 2018 22:03

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