30 minutes into Radiohead's two-hour-plus set, the British band's first Detroit performance since 1997, it hit me -- for 15 years, I've been listening to the wrong bands.
Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke addressed his absence from the Mitten State to the 14,000 fans at the band's almost sold-out concert Monday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
"Colin (Greenwoode) just said we haven't played here for 15 years," said York. That seemed to inspire the slight Brit singer to launch into one of the band's oldest, most popular songs, OK Computer track "Karma Police."
Yes, you read that correctly -- almost sold-out. You could have been at Radiohead last night.
After a spirited opening performance by Canadian electronic artist Caribou, Radiohead took the stage in front of a dazzling stage set-up, flanked by a dozen large-screen televisions capturing each performer's every drum tap, bass beat and howl.
Those giant screens rotated throughout the concert, flanking a floor-to-ceiling light installation that, like a flickering cable signal, wobbled between images, vibrant color and static. The result was practical (hey, you can see them play!) and eerie to witness. When York and his bandmates (including two drummers) danced joyously in front of the giant, flickering sets, their silhouettes resembled flailing insects, or the aliens landing in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Usually described as reclusive, York, who punctuated the songs with brief "thank you's," and led the audience in handclaps, exuded a kind of child-like goofiness onstage.
Close Encounters, for a band of paranoid androids, could seem to reference the band's unflagging modernism and otherworldly sounds. But, in their truest sense, Radiohead has few, if any peers in a live setting. Vocals and drums, no doubt aided by a tight sound setup at the Palace, showcased York and Co. at their best. York's singing, coupled with those skipping beats and tones, approached the level of incantation on "Idioteque" and "Exit Music (For A Film)."
"The National Anthem" and "Lotus" are songs that seem easily transformable into an arena show. But York was even more compelling a performer during his aching performances like "Little By Little" and "Separator." Surprisingly, Radiohead's spare, electronic ballads were more lush in person; becoming reverb-heavy, vocally-driven lullabies that sung the crowd into a hushed quiet.
The set, which featured two encores of three songs each, dug heavily from the band's latest effort, The King of Limbs, as well as OK Computer and Kid A. One final segue was a nod to Neil Young that eased the crowd into the final track, a ghostly rendition of "Everything In Their Right Place." One by one, the band threw up their hands and returned the crowd's applause during the seven minutes of song before exiting the stage.
The lights stayed down for another minute after they were gone. There was just the crowd, the giant flickering screens, and the sounds of static obscuring the final beats.