Radiohead don’t give a shit about anything and they want you to know it.
They’ve never cared about making lyrics intelligible. They’ve never cared about math. And Thom Yorke really doesn’t care about haircuts, to which he now sports a petite man bun atop his greying, pensive noggin.
But most of all, they really don’t care about what songs you want to hear, a message they put forth with poise at TD Garden on Sunday night (July 29), the second of their two Boston shows. And fans go apeshit for it, apeshit enough to drag the Oxfordshire band back out for two encores.
“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: No fear,” Nina Simone’s voice permeated through the arena as the band set up to play their premier tune “Daydreaming,” one of the most mellow ways to kick off a stadium show. It was a one-two punch that solidified that no, they’re really not afraid of whatever you have to say about them or whichever way you might elect to criticize their performance that evening.
Art rock en masse with prolonged whines and moans isn’t typically what fills stadiums (two nights in a row, no less) but under the Radiohead moniker it resonates with a fraction of the masses, an aurally blessed portion of the population that can actually hear Yorke pronounce “weird fishes” and not just pretend to hear the song title in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.”
For a band with only one household-name hit, it takes a significant knowledge of their discography to appreciate any given Radiohead set in its varied entirety — which every Radiohead-head possesses and wields with nerdy confidence.
There’s a cartoon Pitchfork put together last year that pokes fun at their fans’ common notion that every single Radiohead record is the greatest album of all time, making for a grand total of nine GOATs, all seemingly tied. As for how you cull the best songs from almost ten albums that are already their “best of,” the simple answer is that you can’t and won’t because no one who paid to be there is actually going to put up a fight about whatever songs are so fortunate to be selected.
There are no setlist guarantees on Radiohead’s summer 2018 tour, and favorites have been on the chopping block in every city. When a tune like “Paranoid Android” starts, a collective sigh of relief washes over the crowd, another gem salvaged for the evening. There was no mercy for “Karma Police” or “Fake Plastic Trees” though, as both were nixed from the set after being played at the Saturday night show. Sunday offered up a revamped jumble of deep cuts, fleshing out In Rainbows’ “Bodysnatchers,” Hail to the Thief’s “A Wolf at the Door,” and The Bends’ lively title track, maybe the most traditional rock and roll moment of the set, on par only with their incendiary performance of 2016’s “Burn The Witch.” Ironically, the final numbers on the setlist showed more songs from In Rainbows than their newest release, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Throughout the show, Yorke’s serious, moody vocal facade dissipated while swatting around maracas and doing fervent one-two steps like a spiritual energy guru or a transcendental aerobics instructor (the man bun does not help these hard-to-unsee visuals). Guitarist Jonny Greenwood, per contra, has mastered slinging his six-strings with the same disenchantment of a teenager, with the shaggy ‘do to match.
Most notable, however, is that Radiohead’s catalogue is currently its prime. In an era where apolocalyptic music reigns and the GP’s outlook on the future feels bleak, it’s a good time for a band whose main musical characteristics are lingering wails and guitar melodies that are delicatey crafted with a bow. When performing live, Radiohead up the self-indulgence, each song a grandiose gesture of ruminating melancholy — or what at least sounds like melancholy, considering that Yorke could make winning the lottery or the birth of your first born sound like a real drag.
But even with the perfect context, the group still ain’t touching “Creep.” The Radiohead staple has never been more apt; not only is everyone far more miserable and brimming with self-loathing than ever (thanks, social media), Lana Del Rey literally heralded its relevance, albeit accidentally, with a similar chord progression in 2017’s “Get Free.”
But Yorke has called “Creep” “crap” before, and he stuck to it, keeping the tune locked up with the rest of the group’s debut album Pablo Honey (moreover, we might stress that playing their most popular song entirely defies the group’s anti-en-vogue doctrine).
Well, whatever makes you happy, Thom. Whatever you want.
Photos by Victoria Wasylak for Vanyaland; follow her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.