From exhuming a classic for the first time in a decade to seamlessly weaving in politics, the famed group brought their A-game to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday

By Eric Renner Brown
July 27, 2016 at 01:39 PM EDT
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
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Radiohead kicked off a limited run of U.S. tour dates — their first in the country since 2012 — at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. The iconic alt-rockers played for more than two hours, blazing through 24 songs that drew from all their studio albums except 1993’s Pablo Honey and 2001’s Amnesiac. Cuts from this year’s A Moon Shaped Pool coexisted with tracks from the group’s rock-oriented early albums and the electronic-drenched cuts from 2011’s The King of Limbs, making for an evening that left Radiohead fans of all stripes satisfied. Read on for highlights from the U.S. tour kickoff.

Politics permeated the set

Performing in the midst of America’s Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Radiohead made their politics known. As the house lights went down, a recording of a Nina Simone interview played where the legendary musician said, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: No fear!” During the Kid A epic “The National Anthem,” Radiohead appeared to be beaming in live audio coverage of the DNC, with “Let’s go down to the floor of the convention” and “She was a partner of Bill Clinton’s when he was governor of Arkansas…” intermittently breaking through the din. And the audience fed off the vibe: Some of the largest applause early in the set came when frontman Thom Yorke sang the “No Surprises” lyric, “Bring down the government / They don’t speak for us.”

Radiohead played “Let Down” for the first time in a decade

The Brits threw their first U.S. audience a curveball when they stepped out for their first encore and launched into OK Computer ballad “Let Down” for the first time in a decade. After closing their main set with “Idioteque,” the night’s most electronic moment, “Let Down” came across as a balm and reaffirmed just how versatile they are. That was the set’s most unexpected choice, but the group also dug up In Rainbows opener “15 Step” for the first time since 2012 and kept playing “No Surprises,” which they’d eschewed since 2009 until this tour.

The band’s latest material held its own

Radiohead didn’t shy from material off their latest album, May’s A Moon Shaped Pool. In fact, they front-loaded their set with Pool tracks and ultimately played eight of its 11 songs. Starting with set opener “Burn the Witch,” the band played Pool‘s first five songs sequentially. Not all of those cuts translated — “Burn the Witch” hurt for its lack of a string section and “Daydreaming” is too tender of a song to perform while people are still making their way to their seats — but Pool cuts sequenced later in the set fared better. Radiohead’s rhythm section improved the simplistic beat of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief” by injecting it with skittering, jazz-inflected interplay. And Yorke’s serene take on “Present Tense” served as perfect connective tissue in the first encore between OK Computer‘s “Let Down” and “Paranoid Android.”

Thom Yorke has the best dance moves of any dad

Outside of frequent and effusive pleasantries, Yorke largely kept quiet Wednesday night. His only notable comment came at the beginning of the second encore: “You wanted to stay all night, right? You brought your sleeping bags?” But the lack of communication helped Radiohead cram 24 songs into the setlist — and with physical stage presence like Yorke’s, who needs banter? The 47-year-old danced around the stage with signature weirdness on tracks such as “Lotus Flower” (obviously) and drummed up plenty of crowd support during high-energy ragers like Hail to the Thief‘s “2 + 2 = 5.”

The deep cuts were as great as the fan favorites

“No Surprises”? Yup. “Everything In Its Right Place”? Check. “Paranoid Android”? Of course. Radiohead may have shut up and played the hits — but some of their set’s most memorable moments came in unexpected places. In their opening salvo of A Moon Shaped Pool cuts, the anxiety of “Burn the Witch” and the heartbreak of “Daydreaming” couldn’t hold a candle to the barreling cacophony of “Ful Stop.” Elsewhere, “Planet Telex,” the sweeping opener to 1995’s The Bends, took on a paranoid and otherworldly character cut from the same cloth as “The National Anthem.” In short: Avoid beer and bathroom runs if you’re at a Radiohead show.

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