The wait was over.
After a three-year absence, Radiohead returned to New York on Sept. 28th for the first of two sold-out shows. For the 3,000 capacity crowd, Roseland Ballroom was intimate by this band’s standards.
The opener “Bloom,” with its avant-garde rhythms, showed right away the benefits of the second drummer, as Portishead’s Clive Deamer joined the U.K. five-piece. Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals elicited the first of many cheers.
Continuing with material from the eighth studio album, “The King of Limbs,” Yorke danced to the clanking beat of “Little by Little” as tube lights flickered pink. The latest record sees the band veering away from heavy guitar riffs to experimental compositions driven by twitchy drumming and arrangements. All the new material showcased just how much bigger in sound “The King of Limbs” is when performed live.
Whooshy synth and drum-pad effects took us through the unreleased new number “Staircase.” Then Yorke told Deamer he could take a break as the band moved into “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” from the previous album, “In Rainbows.” Drummer Phil Selway and guitarist Jonny Greenwood were enough to whip the attentive crowd into a frenzy.
After a piano was rolled to center stage, Yorke went into “Subterranean Homesick Alien” from the stellar “OK Computer.” Every face seemed stuck in a delighted grin.
One for R.E.M.
As a tribute to the recently disbanded R.E.M., the guys played an impromptu version of “The One I Love” before the keys moved into “Everything in Its Right Place.” The crowd was in full dance mode.
With Yorke announcing, “This one’s called ‘Myxomatosis,’” screams erupted for the heavy tune with muffled keys and pulsating beat. The stop-you-cold piano ballad “Codex” from “The King of Limbs” gave the crowd a chance to rest, then came a steam-building version of “The Daily Mail” that had Greenwood thrashing his axe by the song’s end.
The main set closed with “Reckoner,” which proved that Yorke is only human. About a minute in, he realized he was out of sync and had the band stop. “I am wrong,” he said, and then smoothly rejoined the song where they had left off. It was a laugh for the band and crowd.
Yorke and Jonny Greenwood returned to the stage for “Give Up the Ghost,” a stripped-down and subdued song on the new album. Yorke’s vocals were looped as a programmed beat played below his acoustic guitar and Greenwood’s electric.
The breather was over when Colin Greenwood played the opening bass line to the classic “The National Anthem.” They wrapped up with a jittery “Morning Mr. Magpie.”
But there was one last surprise.
With house lights up and some heading for the exits, the band returned after five minutes for the eerie crowd favorite “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Yorke’s vocals on the finale, “Nude,” raised the hair on my arms. And then it was over.
Here’s a selection of New York-area shows in October. Please note that opening bands aren’t always listed. Shows marked (SO) are sold out, although online services such as Craigslist often have tickets:
Oct. 3 Explosions in the Sky/The Antlers at Wellmont Theater Oct. 4 Portishead at Hammerstein Ballroom (SO) Jon Brion at Le Poisson Rouge Oct. 5 Portishead at Hammerstein Ballroom (SO) James Blake/Chairlift at Webster Hall (SO) Oct. 6 James Blake/Austra at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SO) Oct. 7 Twin Shadow/Diamond Rings at Webster Hall Oct. 8 Screaming Females at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 9 The Lemonheads at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 10 Jens Lenkman/Geoffrey O’Connor at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SO) Oct. 11 Stars/North Highlands at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SO) Oct. 12 Mates of State/Other Lives at Webster Hall Oct. 13 Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Maxwell’s Oct. 14 Yuck/Porcelain Raft/Gross Magic at Music Hall of Williamsburg Oct. 15 Dominant Legs/Nurses at Glasslands Gallery Oct. 16 Wild Flag/Eleanor Friedberger at Maxwell’s (SO) Oct. 17 Fionn Regan at Rock Shop Oct. 18 Zola Jesus at Knitting Factory Oct. 19 Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit at City Winery Oct. 20 Portugal. The Man/Givers/Alberta Cross at Terminal 5 Metronomy/Class Actress at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SO) Oct. 21 Jonathan Richman at Bell House Oct. 22 Gang Gang Dance/Zomby/Inc. at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 23 Weird Al Yankovic at Beacon Theater Oct. 24 Dum Dum Girls/Crocodiles/Royal Baths at Maxwell’s Oct. 25 CANT/Luke Temple at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 26 Dawes/Blitzen Trapper/Smoke Fairies at Webster Hall Oct. 27 Fanfarlo at Mercury Lounge (SO) Cymbals Eat Guitars/Hooray For Earth/Beige at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 28 Matt Pond PA at Maxwell’s Oct. 29 Holy Ghost!/Jessica 6/Eli Escobar at Bowery Ballroom (SO) Jeff Mangum at Town Hall (SO) Oct. 30 Fanfarlo at Glasslands Oct. 31 Ween at Hammerstein Ballroom
(Jaime Widder works in sales for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)