Moving across the country like the swirling, ominous nebula of experimental rock that they are, Radiohead’s ongoing tour for A Moon Shaped Pool has been making constant headlines as they’ve continued to dust off rare tracks from their extensive discography. Their stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl was no different and their setlist was a particularly alluring one as they dunked the sold-out venue into the acutely austere ramblings and fragmented introspections of Thom Yorke. As their closest stop to Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California, the Santa Barbara Bowl was the end stop of a huge exodus of fans from across the state and Radiohead’s appropriate response was to offer a 17-song set complete with their signature two encores.
Opening with the foreboding fantasms of “Daydreaming,” Yorke and company bathed fans in the band’s engulfing sonics that crescendoed from twiddling piano beginnings to an amalgam of droning electronica. With every carefully measured sound that Radiohead chooses to elicit at any given second within their songs, Yorke’s voice is obviously the most instrumental but also treated as just that–one of the instruments. His otherworldly croons are at times intelligible scraps of relatability that you cling onto as the rest of the collectives overwhelming tones and textures rush through–and at others, they’re just as much a part of the elegant discord of synthesizers, warped guitars, and haunting strings. Whether it’s in their minimalism or more chaotically mosaic songs, Yorke’s howls are removed and alien; but through all the melancholy and cascading grimness it’s clear through the painful emotion that this was at one time a human, a man. On songs like “Desert Island Disk” and the lovely rarity “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” the loneliness of Yorke’s bubbling agonies is at once disarmingly sympathetic as it is foreign.
As colossal as such giants as Radiohead could seem when playing at a venue like the Santa Barabra Bowl, there’s a tangible difference from their festival appearances. There exists an intimacy–not of physical space–but of sound, born out of the bewitching nature of and ambitious atmospherics. Yorke, at times unintelligible, gets under your skin through sound alone. His wails can be referenced often as haunting, but there’s so much more nuance to it than that. He enchants and beguiles you on “Lotus Flower” and “Identikit,” makes you wonder in veiled curiosity on “Give Up The Ghost,” and unnerves the rest of the time like in “Climbing Up The Walls.” Their shows are like an out of body experience where every few minutes you’re violently sucked back into your body, before being thrown back out of it–the full sensory experience is given, but to accentuate anything over the sheer auditory madness that is Radiohead in order to somehow elevate their outlandishness is criminal. Through the tumultuousness there are remnants of harmony that perhaps once existed; every song is Yorke taking you on a tour of the rubble while what’s left is pummeled to dust by their instrumentals.The final song before their encore, the sublimely poignant “How To Disappear Completely,” hushed the crowd to such quieting levels of brooding inflictions of existentialism that it was deafening. Yorke’s drone, lifeless and approaching fatalistic disinterest as it disembarks from its casual
The final song before their encore, the sublimely poignant “How To Disappear Completely,” hushed the crowd to such quieting levels of brooding inflictions of existentialism that it was deafening. Yorke’s drone, lifeless and approaching fatalistic disinterest as it disembarks from its casual meandering, eventually melts into the growth of glowing guitars and draining crescendos. The fade out was more than an appropriate end–if not for the blissfully cathartic reveal of grandiose rock anthem “Planet Telex” and soothing head-nodder “Present Tense.” Their encores and entire set were noticeably empty of those often touched on hits like “Creep” and “Karma Police,” they even steered clear of the most popular single from their latest album “Burn The Witch.” But with a discography like Radiohead’s, you don’t come to sing along to the hits, you come to dream in all the ecstasy-laced terrors that Yorke moans and jowls along to.
Words: Steven Ward
Photography: Danielle Gornbein