Review: Radiohead and Caribou at Blossom Music Center, June 6, 2012

Photo by: Annie Zaleski

When Radiohead performed at Blossom Music Center in 2001, they played the Amnesiac cut “Like Spinning Plates” live for the first time ever. Frontman Thom Yorke played the song sitting down at a piano; the instrument had a fish-eye lens attached at head-level so that his movements—eyes-closed, beatific head sways mostly—were projected onto huge screens. Last night at Blossom Music Center, Radiohead again played “Like Spinning Plates”—notably, for the first time during this tour. Yorke again played the song sitting at the piano, and its watery chords flowed from his hands like rippling water.

The sly, brief nod to their past—as the 2001 version of “Like Spinning Plates” appeared on the I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings release, its appearance was likely deliberate—was a quintessential Radiohead move. Although they plucked choice cuts from OK Computer for the set (“Paranoid Android,” “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “Climbing Up The Walls”), the song selection last night was squarely focused on their latest album, The King Of Limbs, and catalog songs which fit that album’s style.

Yet last night’s cohesive show underscored Radiohead’s quiet brilliance: The band constantly winnow their catalog down to the aesthetic they’re currently inhabiting—in other words, breathing new life into older songs and reinventing studio versions to align with whatever’s caught their fancy. On this tour, it’s twitching electronica informed by gulping dance grooves and frenzied beats, all of which celebrate the fluidity and joy of rhythmic freedom. (The ponytailed Yorke in particular threw his whole self into the latter, in the form of deliriously nerdy high-stepping.)

Extra percussionist Clive Deamer aids and abets this goal; his contributions shored up the already-taut rhythmic backbone of the funk-hardened “I Might Be Wrong,” sinewy slink “There, There” and rain-on-the-roof rhythmic assault “15 Step.” Radiohead’s new songs—tunes not on any album as of yet—exhibited a collision of genres and textures that was invigorating. “Identikit” boasted trip-hop beats with snakecharmer rhythms and oozing keyboards, held together by Yorke’s hip-hop-influenced flow; New Order keyboards and a moody Underworld vibe permeated the mellow hum of “Staircase.”

Still, Radiohead are first and foremost a band with substance, one whose fragmented lyrics and thoughts cut through the dense music. And last night, the highlights were understated. “Separator” turned into an affecting, melancholic slow jam with Yorke repeatedly wailing, “Wake me up.” Also transcendent was “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” a duel between Ed O’Brien’s pained harmonies and latticed layers of perforated aching chords. The core members of Radiohead stuck close onstage during the latter song, as if huddling together for comfort.

Only a few moments—particularly “Kid A”—didn’t catch fire, mainly due to low energy. Otherwise, the night was a treat, a show where a veteran band reveled in the power of sonic possibility.

Caribou were the absolutely perfect opener for this iteration of Radiohead. Comprised of vocalist/keyboardist Dan Snaith and a three-piece touring band, the act specialize in swerving synthpop grooves and clockwork drum flurries; think LCD Soundystem on a racing caffeine buzz. Their all-too-short half-hour set highlighted their last album, 2010’s Swim, which contained extended dancefloor jams.

However, Swim’s meandering electronic compositions came alive in concert. Credit for this goes to Caribou’s live configuration; Snaith tours with a live band (including Brainiac/Enon member John Schmersal), which expertly translated the album’s percussive flourishes and keyboard geometry to the stage. Drummer Brad Weber in particular kept the music crisp and propulsive on the shivering surge “Leave House” and on the echoing discofunk screech “Odessa.”

By design, the set’s final song, “Sun,” was its masterpiece. Give or take ten minutes long, the ecstatic tune was an exercise in pacing and sound sculpture. Caribou piled on the intensity, first with a motoring Krautrock groove and sustained keyboard drones, and then eventually with a cascade of blocky synth throbs, Weber’s triumphant drum slams and the simple lyrical utterance, “Sun…sun….sun.”

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