Concert review: Radiohead, Vector Arena (+ photos)

By Russell Baillie

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Thom Yorke of English rock band Radiohead. Photo / Greg Bowker
Thom Yorke of English rock band Radiohead. Photo / Greg Bowker

By rights, Radiohead should have been here to relive the good old days. It's been nearly fifteen years and five albums since they last played in Auckland. That was in 1998 at the at the height of the British art-rock outfit's third album OK Computer making them a very big deal indeed.

That magnum opus stills cast a long and glorious shadow over their career and in fan memories - as was witnessed to the response to two of its tracks, Airbag (up early) and the symphonic Paranoid Android (last song in the first encore) by the sold-out Vector Arena crowd.

But this wasn't a greatest hits show. It wasn't even pushing their recent offering, 2011's King of Limbs too much with maybe half a dozen tracks in the two-hour two-encore show. Which might have left many present a bit non-plussed at no dusting off of breakthrough hit Creep, or anything off second big-chorus anthemic album The Bends.

But this show was Radiohead, possibly rock's most popular experimentalists celebrating that great body of work post-OK Computer. And they did that with a visually spectacular, sonically gripping, often confounding and sometimes maddening show that didn't play to the usual arena rock rules. The kaleidoscopic light show and tilting video screens (if God has Skype, this must be what it looks like) was a mad futuristic Close Encounters dazzle one minute, while the next it was projecting each of the band at their tasks, like a cutaway diagram of a grand machine.

While musically, from the serpentine groove of Lotus Flower which opened to the hydraulically-powered headrush of Idioteque that was the band's final sprint to the line, this was a show that to show how far, how weird and how deep they've come.

And how they've become master builders of walls of sound, throwing layer upon layer and rhythm upon rhythm and building momentum before pulling the plug. Which does sound more dance music than rock music. And it should be said that the once famously glum Thom Yorke has certainly developed his footwork since he was last here.

His voice, which was sounding a little rough by the end on which he blamed jetlag, is still the anxious beating human heart of this machine.

Some of the show's best moments came when he was heard in relative isolation. Like on Pyramid Song with Yorke at the piano and Jonny Greenwood on bowed guitar; or just the two of them on Give Up the Ghost in the encores, where Yorke's voice's looped harmonies with himself were spine-tingling.

They were often brutal, like on the industrial grinds of National Anthem or Myxomatosis (which came dedicated to Mitt Romney). And there was times when this was a stand-and-watch kind of experience with some audience connection problems.

But for the most part Radiohead were just plain exhilarating, proving they might be a band with nearly 20 years behind them, but one's whose present is all the more thrilling.

Setlist (source: Setlist.FM):

Lotus Flower
Bloom
Airbag
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Kid A
I Might Be Wrong
The Gloaming
Separator
Reckoner
Pyramid Song
Nude
Identikit
There There
The National Anthem
Feral
Bodysnatchers

Encore one:
Give Up the Ghost
Supercollider
Morning Mr. Magpie
Myxomatosis
Paranoid Android

Encore two:
Idioteque

Who: Radiohead
Where: Vector Arena, Auckland
When: Tuesday, November 6

- NZ Herald

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