Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Radiohead kicks its jams out @ FMBA

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Four years ago, electronic music pioneer Brian Eno released an acclaimed iPhone app, Bloom, which he called "part instrument, part composition and part artwork." The polyrhythmic space-jazz song "Bloom" -- which opens Radiohead's latest album, 2011's "The King of Limbs," and opened the band's concert Sunday night at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park -- sounds basically like a fuller experience of the app.

Bloom, the app, is all about layering. A base tone hums, and you poke the screen to start certain notes looping, which causes a ripple effect on the display. Add some here, add some there, they repeat, repeat, and fade. Then you add some more. Eventually you realize that's all you can do with it and move along.

"Bloom," the song, started stacking its layers Sunday night before the band even hit the stage. Indistinct, spooky voices began looping. Radiohead drummer Phil Selway started playing. Portishead drummer Clive Deamer (touring with the band for extra oomph) started playing. Guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood started playing drums, too. With the groove laid and locked, ponytailed singer Thom Yorke stepped into the purple lights and began piling on his coos and wails. "Don't blow your mind with why," he sang.

Take his advice. Don't look too deeply into this experience anymore. After 20 years in business, Radiohead is a jam band now, a group of frustrated DJs making electronic dance music with live bass and drums. Songs, schmongs -- it's all about the layering, the groove. Why ask why?

Once worthy of a tag this newspaper hung on them, "the New Millennial Pink Floyd" -- and Roger Waters' spectacular revival of "The Wall" was just in Chicago on Friday -- Radiohead today owes more to "Laughingstock"-era Talk Talk and turn-of-the-century Poi Dog Pondering. The music is often impressive, but the feel and the vibe have triumphed over the song, certainly the lyrics. Heady, indeed, but not overly intellectual.

Since taking its initially creative and electronically guided left turn after its first two alt-rock albums, "Pablo Honey" (1993) and "The Bends" (1995), which were both virtually ignored Sunday night, Radiohead seems on a continual search for that dynamic G-spot between electronic knob-twiddling and an actual sweaty, human rhythm section. Sunday's concert was an alternating jittery and sleepy display of how far they've gone since that left turn -- and how they seem to be stuck on that road, unable to turn again.

For less than two hours, the beats and drones ebbed and flowed, never really breaking through. Rhythm ruled, with the two main kits always skittering away, but sometimes, as during "There There," four members were playing drums. (Who do they think they are? Chicago's A Lull?) The ever-scruffy Yorke had plenty to dance to, shaking and spazzing, doing his crazy puppet dance during "The Gloaming" and some kind of broken-leg Twist during "15 Step." During the fat, fuzzy slide groove of "Myxomatosis," he shook his hips and wagged his tongue.

The requisite mid-show ballad segment featured Yorke at the piano and sagged like a Sarah McLachlan lullaby. The plunking piano and amiable amble of "Karma Police," however, revived the crowd and seemed tailored for a guest spot from, say, members of Wilco (a few of whom were in Friday's audience). Yorke closed the first encore back at the piano, noodling through a line or two of R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" before settling into the featureless riff of "Everything in Its Right Place."

The layering effect can be dazzling. "Morning Mr. Magpie" fused metronomic speed and an extra bass guitar with remarkably airy ease. The electric squawks and beat-box of "Idioteque" got the crowd jumping, while Yorke yelped and (basically) rapped. But since Greenwood spent much of Sunday night shunning his guitar, sometimes the drum-and-bass was really all there was to it. A new song, "Full Stop" -- in its concert debut -- made the best use of the two drummers and ratcheted up the tension in the drone. Still, it was just another stack of effects that merely ended rather than reaching a conclusion.

"Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there," Yorke sang again in "There There." Take that advice, too, because there's just not as much there there as there used to be.

Radiohead's set list Sunday night:
"There There"
"15 Step"
"Kid A"
"Morning Mr. Magpie"
"The Gloaming"
"The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"
"Karma Police"
"Lotus Flower"
"Little by Little"
Encore 1:
"Full Stop"
"The One I Love"/"Everything In Its Right Place"
Encore 2:
"Give Up the Ghost"
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
"Street Spirit (Fade Out)"

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Two words: youre wrong

Half-arsed, shoddily thrown together review. As a long-time fan attending with other long-time fans I will say everyone with me and around me loved the show. And really, Poi Dog? That's just contentiously silly provocation.

You can't dance, can you?

It's hard to put into words how absurd this review is. You've GOT to be kidding me.

I guess every concert can't be as good as fun's. Right Thomas Conner? (lol) I'm not one of those diehard "Radiohead is the best band ever" fanboys but it seems like this review took an overly-skeptical view of everything. Based on the reception the band got and overhearing people saying "that was the best thing ever" when I was walking out of the show, I'm guessing this reviewer was one of the very few people in the near-capacity crowd who didn't enjoy it.

This is the worst publication/review I have ever read. Thomas Conner is a moron who obviously doesn't have a clue what he is talking about.

Here's a tough review written by Thomas Conner from the Sun Times. Comments from Readers after his article took an opposite view, basically telling Conner he was full of it.

The article does make some interesting points, but I think you fail to note that Radiohead's songs often take years to reach that personal conclusion you're searching for. In some ways, they are the innovators and we are the test as to whether they're successful or not. So far, they are very good at it. Time will tell if the news songs today are still there tomorrow. My prediction is yes they will be there.

Agree with the reviewer. I have always loved their first three albums and thought Kid A was decent. They lost me with Amnesia and I thought I would give them another try. They are not the same band. I have no problem with those that like them now, but who they were in the 90's is not who they are now. Unfortunately, I miss the old Radiohead. I like vocals and lyrics. Those don't exist with the new Radiohead.

im sure Thomas Conner is a fan boy of coldplay

This review is indeed a little harsh, though I do agree with it. I left the show counting how few songs were played off of their first 3 albums (there was only Karma Police until the Street Spirit/Fade Out). This statement is definitely true: "because there's just not as much there there as there used to be." This is a completely different live band than 5...10...15 years ago. I miss the old Radiohead completely. I still love the new Radiohead. The reviewer missed the mark on recognizing and reviewing the new Radiohead. He simply chided the band for not playing to the old Radiohead. My complaint towards last night's show is that it was so 100% the "new". At one point during the show, I made the comment that Radiohead is "too good" for their early work at this point. With a catalogue as good as they have, no version of Radiohead should be simply ignored. Radiohead should figure out a way to mix the new with the old. OK Computer and The Bends are two unreal albums.

To compare Radiohead's talent and innovation to a new iphone app is downright stupid. The show is a complete audio and visual experience that hardly anyone else can deliver live. Your review is very harsh - but I understand that Radiohead may not be for everyone. That's okay though... I don't mind leaving you all behind; there's not enough room for you in the musical revolution anyway.

In many ways this review was very intelligent. Comparing Radiohead to the last three albums made by Talk Talk is a major compliment. Talk Talk decided to switch from being comercial to being experimental too. Like Talk Talk the restless Radiohead did not wan't to be like Coldplay or Duran Duran. That being said "The Bends" "Ok Computer" "Hail To The Thief" and "In Rainbows" are their masterpieces.

I'm pretty sure I was there last night and I'm pretty sure I wasn't watching Phish or Umphrey's McGee. But then again, I could be wrong.

It is fairly clear and obvious that this reviewer had his opinions about Radiohead's music long before he attended the show. Also clear that he was disappointed the band's concert setlist focussed more on their later albums which utilized a style of music that this reviewer personally did not prefer. Which is fine...all of us have our own preferences..but to berate the band and the performance based on this personal preference is simply inexcusable, immature and ultimately unprofessional.

I would love to see a "group of frustrated djs" create music as complicated and layered as radiohead

conner seems to ignore the fact that radiohead's departure into the electronic area is what made them famous in the first place, the fact that they're constantly walking that fine line between electronic music and rock/pop is what makes them so interesting

I totally agree with this review.
I paid a lot for my ticket and NO PARANOID ANDROID!!!!!!!
I just wanted to hear
"Take me on board their beautiful ship,
show me the world as I 'd love to see it."

THAT is a song!
OK Computer is one of the greatest records of all time.
Everything since is WTF?

Let freaking Greenwood play his freaking guitar and make songs again.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on June 11, 2012 1:24 AM.

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