Laser focus: Radiohead ride their groove (and forget their past) at historicalAustin City Limits taping
The atmosphere surrounding Radiohead’s long-awaited Austin City Limits television series debut resembled nothing so much as a revival tent… of record store clerks and music nerds. While there may have been a few stray souls hoping for a greatest hits set amongst the crowd, one suspects they were few and far between. The hushed and reverent atmosphere Tuesday was unlike any ACL taping we’ve seen to date — it was as quiet as Studio 6A, despite the fact that the crowd was at least five times as large.
Radiohead opined last year while doing press for The King Of Limbs that touring behind their previous album In Rainbows felt disjointed, with Ed O’Brien telling BBC’s 6Music: “Last time we went out, it felt very much like In Rainbows plus the greatest hits. And it’s not going to be like that this time. I guess it’s going to be predominantly from this record and the last record, and then see which songs fit around that.”
If there were any doubt that Radiohead aren’t very interested in performing their early work, the fact that only one song released prior to Kid A made the cut made it clear.
This ethos was present for all but a blip of the 17-song set: From the start, the emphasis was on percussion and groove, with guitars present but used as an accent rather than a focal point. The double (and sometimes triple) drum attack featured Phil Selway and Portishead drummer Clive Deamer as a double- (shaved) headed hydra, banging away at complicated patterns of syncopation which felt both warm and unusual for a rock show.
The drums were placed front and center in the sound mix throughout the night, and one could see why the band waited for Mr. Deamer’s availability to tour — this percussion was the linchpin of the show’s sonic identity.
While the band were all dressed simply in black, they exhibited none of the legendary unease documented earlier in their career in the documentary film Meeting People Is Easy. To the contrary, Thom Yorke seemed to be having a delightful time, employing minimal banter but dancing with abandon, and working an arms-poised boxer’s stance he might’ve copped from The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess during rock shows in his youth. His occasional banter was mostly silly: “I’m on TV, so I’m clammin’ up!” But the audience lapped it up anyway, staying hushed during the tunes but erupting into wild applause after every number.
The laser focus on Radiohead’s current rhythmic obsessions would be a huge risk for most acts, but this is a band with a trusting audience that will give it a long leash — and the gamble worked.
As for the song selection, Radiohead leaned most heavily on The King Of Limbs, with selections from the LP plus new single "The Daily Mail" making up nearing half the show’s running time. If there were any doubt that Radiohead aren’t very interested in performing their early work, the fact that only one song released prior to Kid A made the cut made it clear. And while the crowd loved it, encore “Paranoid Android” felt less like an organic part of the show and more like a bone tossed to a kind audience as an afterthought.
The laser focus on Radiohead’s current rhythmic obsessions would be a huge risk for most acts, but this is a band with a trusting audience that will give it a long leash — and the gamble worked. The music didn’t come across as monotonous or one-note, but worked as a whole because the feeling conveyed was consistent.
Our vote for prettiest tune of the night went to “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” which brought grins and spontaneous handclaps from the crowd, and the overall favorite was (relative) oldie “Myxomatosis,” which simply brought the house down with propulsive energy.
The show was a huge coup for the ACL team, and the audience knew it: from Robert Plant to Spoon’s Jim Eno to director Paul Thomas Anderson, the A-list crowd congregated, listened, and were mesmerized. As were we.
Bloom / Little By Little / Daily Mail / Myxomatosis / Morning Mr. Magpie / The Gloaming / Amazing Sounds Of Orgy / Staircase / Reckoner / Weird Fishes-Arpeggi / Identikit / Lotus Flower / There There / Feral / Idioteque / Skirting On The Surface / Paranoid Android