Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Kind of Blue (and pink, and red)

August 24, 2008


Radiohead is back in town and tonight was the first of two shows at the Hollywood Bowl here in Los Angeles. Like Wilco, Radiohead is one of those bands that so outpace virtually all of their contemporaries that even on a bad day they’re better than most anybody else around. And tonight was certainly not their worst, even if it was a show that was easier to admire on an intellectual level than a visceral one. These young men know how to crunch and rock with the best, but that was not the order of things on Sunday. The two hour set was unsurprisingly dominated by material from In Rainbows but even the smattering of earlier material picked for this show tended toward the more somber, sedate, and blue. This seemed to be off-putting to the crowd at times. In quiet moments, there was rarely silence (at least in my neck of the bowl) but shouts and comments often for laughs. It wasn't so much heckling as it was a clear mismatch between what was expected and the downbeat but beautiful performance that was offered.

This was the plaintive Thom Yorke and his crew, and while they weren’t always delicate, they weren’t in a hurry for the sun to break through on this rainy day set of songs. But it was often pretty. Not just musically but visually as well, with a rather elaborate light show that was totally “sick” according to the young pot-head who sat behind me. Indeed, huge screens were awash in color as cameras caught the band in various close-ups throughout. Curtains of lights surrounded the band on stage for a dizzying variety of effects. I couldn’t help thinking of why opera directors can’t come up with something this fetching if a rock band can pull it off for a concert.

The show opened with The Liars who seemed an appropriate complement if their singer, Angus Andrew, did have the proclivity of stating the obvious as if it would generate excitement in the crowd. “This is Los Angeles!” he wailed and while it may not have whipped the audience into a frenzy, its accuracy is hard to ignore. Of course, Radiohead is never about the obvious. They play with abandoned that balances the best of electronic beats and effects with simply well-written songs. A hook is not unheard of and they are not afraid of the slow build or letting things fall apart when it's called for. On Sunday, it just wasn't about the urgency. It was a night to reflect and ponder about the past and maybe what was lost. Which is just fine.


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