Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: Radiohead @ Comcast Center

Radiohead @ Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA -- May 29, 2012
Review: Dave Bolton

Everything is in its right place, Thom dances in Mansfield.

It says a lot about the Comcast Center in Mansfield that it has a regular schedule of bands that are happy to play there. Most of them get a bit confused about where exactly in Massachusetts it is. I have seen several experienced performers refer to it as Boston on stage but this tree-lined venue is not (and I emphasize NOT) anywhere near Beantown.

The former Great Woods/Tweeter Center is 30 miles away from the center of Boston and can only be accessed through a series of Interstate connections and a Main Street that doubles as paid parking in the yards of local residents for those of us sensible enough to not want to leave our car in the free parking on-site.

The reason some of us pay to park when it is free at the venue? Because Comcast has a capacity of 19,000 and the average time to get out of the car-park after a gig is finished is anywhere between 15 and 120 minutes…which is just one of the problems with attending a concert on a school night. But when it’s Radiohead, it will probably be worth it.

I left Boston at 7 p.m. to travel the 30 miles to the venue by car and traffic was anything but a joy. There is no public transport to the venue, the nearest train station is somewhere in Mansfield, but I have been to many gigs at Comcast and am yet to meet anybody who has relied on commuter rail to get there.

This is a just a long way of saying that I missed the support band – Caribou - and that I heard the first Radiohead song through the trees as I walked to the venue from $15 parking spot on the grass outside somebody’s house. Which wasn’t a major problem; there are worse things than hearing "Bloom" float towards me through the air on a muggy Massachusetts night.

I missed the second track as well. "15 Step" from In Rainbows appeared as I waited in line for a $9 can of Michelob Ultra, a decision that was made due to the 20 deep throng of people that were gathered around the decent (Harpoon, Magic Hat, Bass) beer concession stands.

So technically the first song I heard was from OK Computer. As I made way to my uncovered seat, the sound of "Airbag" blasted out of the speakers and I turned to see Thom Yorke dancing. That was the moment that I forgot about the traffic and the expensive (and shit) beer and bellowed my appreciation loudly (and tunelessly) into the night sky.

When Thom dances, the world is a better place. The last time I saw Radiohead was at Wembley Arena (London) in 1996 and he was a surly bastard who seemed annoyed that people kept buying the records. But I had seen him upstage Flea in the dancing stakes when Atoms For Peace played in Boston (as opposed to in the middle of nowhere) and I heard rumors that he was quite excited by the chance to play the new stuff live.

The King of Limbs was well represented, six tracks out of the twenty-three were off that LP but where these songs seemed delicate and ethereal on record, they have become muscular and buzzing with positivity. Radiohead were never a band to dance to, they were associated with quiet contemplation in the safety of your own room while reading Nietzsche and deciding which shade of black goes best with black.

As Thom dances, the band plays. Experiments in sound become anthems, the wall of recycled bottles at the back of the stage providing a pulsing visual backdrop to everything that blasts from the speakers. "The Daily Mail" is restrained at first and then explodes... "Morning Mr. Magpie" is a guitar driven romp, a community of feet tapping and head bobbing.

Jonny Greenwood has always been a great guitarist, Phil Selway has always been an awesome drummer and Colin Greenwood bears an uncanny resemblance to Wil Wheaton but the introduction a second sticks man in the shape of Portishead’s Clive Deamer has pushed them over the edge. They were always on the cusp of being one louder, now they have taken their brand of trip-hop and musical innovation onto a level that mere mortals can only see in their dreams.

Vocals loop and soar, unearthly sounds punctuate the air and Thom keeps dancing. We don’t get anything from The Bends, "Creep" seems to have been consigned to the radio-friendly-unit-shifter waste bin of history and "Lucky" is the only other track from OK Computer.

Thom is funny and charming, there is no sign of the man I saw in 1996. He introduces "Myxomatosis" with an amusing segue about Vladimir Putin and “democracy” in Russia; the irony that the song comes from Hail to the Thief brings a smile to those of us in the audience who follow political process.

The band power on, Thom is swaggering about the stage like the English version of Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes), time has stopped in Mansfield and all we can do is enjoy the ride. LP tracks that were quiet in the comfort of your own headspace now circle the venue like a shark; there is only the hint of an unseen danger before they break the aural surface of sound when you least expect it.

Radiohead have always polarized musical opinion. Their decisions to release songs on their terms while not under the controlling eye of a record company have provided column inches and a blueprint for musical sustainability. Everyone knows at least one Radiohead song; most people have no idea about how influential the band really are.

After 120 minutes of genius, the evening draws to a close. The 2012 version of Radiohead is one of the best bands I have seen in a long time, they have embraced technology and used it to the best of their ability. Thom Yorke has always seemed like he comes from another dimension but now he has the songs to back that up.

As the final notes of "Reckoner" hang in the air, 19,000 people head for the exits and the crushing inevitability of a sitting in a car-park. But it won’t matter, a night with Radiohead means that everything is finally in its right place. Thom is probably still dancing.


Bloom, 15 Step, Airbag, Staircase, The Daily Mail, Myxomatosis, The Gloaming, Separator, Pyramid Song, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Morning Mr. Magpie, Identikit, Lotus Flower, Feral, Idioteque

Encore 1

Supercollider, The National Anthem, Lucky, Everything In Its Right Place

Encore 2

Give Up the Ghost, Bodysnatchers, Reckoner

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