The typical crowd at a Los Angeles concert is not nearly as exhilarating as one might imagine in today’s generation, because let’s face it; most folks are really just powering through an awkward first date or passive-aggressively nudging their way across the pit for a better Snapchat angle. However, there’s something about standing in line to see a Radiohead performance that feels like the Christmas morning of culture—an excitement so pure and innocent that it radiates among each fan at once. Feelings like this are too seldom these days, because after all, acts of terrorism are increasing at an alarming rate, our careers are quickly being replaced by automatons, and Donald Trump is likely to become the leader of the free world. Maybe it’s just hard to find something to believe in during the year 2016, but last night at the Shrine Auditorium none of that mattered, because we knew we had Radiohead to help us feel some truth and beauty once again.
As the night fell, attendees could wade through a merch booth line thick enough to fill the Echoplex and find Seattleite duo Shabazz Palaces ferociously testing the crowd’s ear for avant-garde hip hop. An hour later, kaleidoscopic light projections filled the backdrop of giant silky sheets, and the masses wept as Phil, Clive, Colin, Jonny, and the mythical figure known as Thom Yorke emerged. Last came the dashing silhouette of Ed O’Brien as if fashionably late, tiptoeing aloofly to Yorke’s side like the Han Solo to his greying Force Awakens-era Luke Skywalker. Jonny began viciously slashing his guitar with a violin bow before the audience could even regain composure. Burn the Witch.
Above the band is a massive panorama of LCD screens that display live close-ups of each member that feel something like those split-screen shots from Power Rangers fight scenes. Monochromatic LED grids and oscilloscopic patterns fill every bit of negative space. This is not a loud set. In fact, the chilling softness of the instrumentation and fearless vulnerability of Yorke’s voice give into the air of a personal studio session for thousands of observers at once more so than a live rock show, albeit without compromising a shred of intensity. It is tangibly obvious that this experience, this plane of both visual immersion and sonic intimacy at once, simply has not been achieved by any other team of artists in the world. Within the first minute, it feels genuinely as if Radiohead has channeled a fourth dimension inside the auditorium.
The set continued with the following five tracks from A Moon Shaped Pool in order, rejecting all social pressures of early-show bombast for the somber trance of tracks like “Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk,” but make no mistake: this is no “play the old stuff already,” self-indulgence from your average 20-year-old arena act. The slow and sad, yet transcendent live setting of A Moon Shaped Pool is tailored for an experience unlike any emotive performance experience. Indeed, the vast majority of this audience clearly would have opted for a full-on nostalgia dump of the early rock n’ roll anthems instead (complete with audience member vocalizing his hopes to hear “Creep” in full sincerity), but this is when the true, unparalleled wonder of Radiohead’s legacy becomes clear: this is a band that has influenced multiple generations of multiple sonic movements, from grunge to electronic, without losing cohesiveness or artistic relevance for a second over the course of two decades. Few concert audiences ever gather such a varying age range of genuine fans as was visible in the Shrine last night, and each generation in attendance was raised on a completely different Radiohead.
At the performance’s peak, they begin the heart-wrenching waltz we all recognize as “Nude,” and as the instruments go silent for Yorke to whimper his classic high note, a maniacal howl erupted from what sounded like every single member of the audience simultaneously. Next came “Myxomatosis,” where we watched Yorke transition from singer-songwriter to golem-esque madman, thrashing his fist at the audience with each downbeat.
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)” concluded a night of music that no amount of hyperbole can begin to portray. It is reasonable to question the cult-like worship of the thousands of Radiohead fans that are currently barraging LA with tales of what they saw last night, but it is even more reasonable to note that those who doubt the transcendence of a Radiohead performance have unfortunately never seen one.
Words: Jamie Lawlor
Photography: Andrew Gomez
Radiohead at Shrine Auditorium Setlist
*They switched the last two songs and played Street Spirit last.