Radiohead reign over the Wells Fargo Center - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

Confession time: I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when revisiting Radiohead in a live setting for the first time in a decade. Sure, I knew objectively that I would be witnessing a technically proficient and dynamic performance, rich with songs from one of the strongest catalogs in modern rock history. I also knew that I would be ensconced in the enthusiastic energy of the crowd who filled in before, full of fans that no doubt pored over the relatively restrained material that the band has released over the last ten years with the same piety they devoted to the more conventionally accessible albums that preceded it. However, I didn’t know what or how I would feel, personally, when the lights went down on Tuesday night and that opening twinkle of “Daydreaming” filled the still air of the venue. In an instant, it was like no time had passed. For the two hours and change that followed, it was like time ceased to exist altogether. Along with the rest of the rapt audience, I was treated to a transfixing, transcendent night of music—the first of two in Philly that closed out the band’s tour for 2016’s elegant A Moon Shaped Pool—that simultaneously felt like catching up with an old friend and discovering a new favorite artist all over again.

Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

One thing that I seldom see Radiohead get credit for is how generous and inviting they can be in a live setting, and this is a band who literally let fans pay whatever they wanted for what has quietly become one of their best works. Their 25 song set, despite a slight lean into Pool material, featured a healthy selection of songs from every album except their 1993 debut Pablo Honey. Generosity shouldn’t be conflated with compromise or instant gratification, however. The band favored a slow burn, opting to begin the night with some of their more esoteric (still excellent) latter day material. That material took new shape and fuller life on stage, effectively building a new shared universe where older favorites would eventually drift into orbit like dwarf stars. Some stars, like the heartbreakingly beautiful “No Surprises”, just twinkled gently before drifting back into the ether. Others, like early encore pick “Bodysnatchers”, went full supernova and leveled the arena. Others still, like “2+2=5”, seemed to do all of the above.

Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

The transportive, transformative motif was baked into the visual presentation of the show as well. Beams of light would shoot into and wrap around the venue with ever-shifting colors and intensity. Meanwhile, a large elliptical screen over the stage projected images of all members of the band layered over each other as they performed, subtly reinforcing how utterly and unflinchingly each one functions and flourishes as part of the whole. The most thrilling intersection of all of these elements occurred during early knockout “Ful Stop”, where the lights and imagery picked up with the frantic pace of the song to simulate some kind of violent, Kubrickian space odyssey. Other highlights included underrated Hail to the Thief centerpiece “The Gloaming”, whose backing blips and beats almost approached Silent Shout territory, the sheer shock of hearing the rare, Romeo & Juliet soundtracking “Talk Show Host”, and main set closer “Idioteque”, which not only still sounds as alluringly alien as it did 18 years ago, but also lyrically prescient in a way I’m sure the band didn’t intend or hope.

Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

Either way, that prescience is what continues to make Radiohead such a vital presence in music. Never ones to really revisit territory on album, their ability to recalibrate and recontextualize material from their history on stage reveals a group who have always been paying attention to the world around us, and trying to make sense of it for us. Though time would eventually start moving again once the sighing final crescendo of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” finished filling the air, I walked away remembering and revering the world they had built and maintained for the night. One that made sense. One that prematurely defied and decimated any expectations a formerly lapsed fan might conjure up.

Night One Setlist
Desert Island Disk
Ful Stop
2 + 2 = 5
The Gloaming
All I Need
Pyramid Song
No Surprises
I Might Be Wrong
Talk Show Host
The Numbers
The National Anthem

Decks Dark
A Wolf at the Door
Fake Plastic Trees

Encore 2:
Present Tense
Paranoid Android
Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Night Two Setlist
Desert Island Disk
Ful Stop
15 Step
Kid A
Decks Dark
Let Down
Everything in Its Right Place
Lotus Flower
House of Cards
How to Disappear Completely

Exit Music (for a Film)
There There
The Tourist

Encore 2:
The Bends
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Karma Police

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