It’s hard to imagine a band like Radiohead, an inherently alternative group, playing at a venue as large as the Smoothie King Center. However, that’s what happened on Monday, April 3 in New Orleans. Smoothie King Center was one of six stops Radiohead is taking in April before they headline festivals in the UK and the US during summer. They released a new album in 2016 called A Moon Shaped Pool, their ninth studio album, and have been touring since.
In Abingdale, Oxfordshire, 1985, lead singer Thom Yorke, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, guitarist Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, and drummer Philip Selway came together to form the band “On A Friday,” which would eventually become Radiohead. They released their debut album PAblo HONEY in 1993 and have followed with eight more. Miraculously, Radiohead has used the same producer and the same album cover artist since 1994. Even more astonishing, though, is that the band has never once changed core members, something you hardly see anymore. This could possibly be credited to the fact that not one person in the band chose the instrument they play out of particular interest, but out of mere desire to play music with one another.
The opening band was the Jewish-Arabic group, Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis. They started the evening at 7:30, and Radiohead followed at 8:30. Radiohead began their set with three songs,“Daydreaming,” “Desert Island Disk,” and “Ful Stop” from their new album. Then, the nostalgia kicked in and they delved backward into works like “2+2=5” from Hail to the Thief and the ever-popular “Lucky” from their colossal hit record, OK Computer.
Radiohead’s music is alternative rock, but it is often quite slow in tempo and has always remained experimental. Thom Yorke’s voice, docile and thin, but angelic, carries smoothly over unique cacophonies inspired by psychedelic and avant garde music. All the members are multi-instrumentalists. Throughout the length of the set, Thom Yorke switched between guitar, synths, and piano, while Jonny Greenwood also wheeled around an abundance of instruments such as piano, guitar, drums, and even a rather large analogue synth that used patch cords resembled something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.
The show was labeled as sold out, but at least a fifth of the venue was absent. Whether it was due to scalpers or what, who knows, but the noise level of the crowd definitely made up for those who couldn’t make it. Fans burst with cheers between songs and roared during unifying lyrics such as “It’s gonna be a glorious day,” a line from “Lucky.” Radiohead’s setlist was a mixture of old and new songs, with a heavier lean on material off of their last three albums such as “Lotus Flower” from The King of Limbs and “Bodysnatchers” from In Rainbows. The final track was “How to Disappear Completely” from 2000’s Kid A, before they played three encores.
The first encore was a staggering five tracks starting with “No Surprises,” to which the audience yelled gleefully during the line “They don’t speak for us,” and ending with the mega-hit “Karma Police.” They played “You and Whose Army?” and “Fake Plastic Trees” for the second encore. The stage’s lights were never as intense or vivid, however, as they were during the heavy peaks of their third encore and final song “Paranoid Android” from OK Computer, which was a spectacular choice for a closing track. Despite the large venue and lengthy encores, Radiohead is a fundamentally tranquil band, and they pale in comparison to the exciting nature of other groups that have played at Smoothie King Center. The show was everything one would have expected from the beloved group, but they most likely would have been much better in a more intimate setting.