Coachella Music Festival, Empire Polo Club
April 21, 2017
“If I could be who you wanted...all the time,” coos Thom Yorke on "Fake Plastic Trees" midway through Radiohead's encore during weekend two of Coachella. It's nearing the end of a largely victorious set on the main stage, and it appears that Yorke and company have more than made up for last weekend's sound problems, which caused them to stop playing twice, much to the chagrin of many expectant Radiohead fans.
Last weekend, Yorke wasn't able to be who he wanted. Sometimes shit happens. This weekend, when he sings "Ful Stop" (“You really messed up everything/You really messed up everything!”), you wonder if he's still directing his frustration at the sky (and the sound guys).
“This time maybe you can hear us!” he jokes, before launching into "Pyramid Song." His mood this evening seems variously jovial and oddly irate. He jibes that maybe he should have a residency in Vegas, such is the success of the festival's surrounding EDM acts. Toward the end of "Myxomatosis," he stops making sense and starts bleating “blah blah fucking blah.” A masterfully elongated version of "Everything in Its Right Place" chops and screws Yorke's vocal, rendering the climactic track even more discombobulating and manic. Even that is followed by a nonchalant comment. “If you don't know Radiohead, you're probably thinking, what the fuck is going on here?” says Yorke. “That's good. That's the idea.”
Indeed, some of the Coachella punters really don't understand what Radiohead is about. “What about 'Karma Police'?” asks a bro with an American flag draped over his back. “Yeah! What about 'High and Dry'?” responds his friend, getting another round of beers in. The people watching Radiohead at Coachella are the types who sang "Creep" once around a campfire. This isn't Radiohead's typical demographic, and the band seems aware of it. Perhaps brilliantly, though, the bandmembers don't seem to care. Anyone who doesn't stick around long enough to see their most arresting offerings, such as the majestic "All I Need" or "The Gloaming," are missing the point.
As Yorke sings about being an animal “trapped in your hot car,” it fits the scene a little too perfectly. Radiohead seems to be a rare caged beast put on display in the scorching confines of these grounds. Despite the fact that the act's stage spectacle shone brighter than the night sky, despite the possibility that Radiohead is the most sonically adept band anyone will see all weekend, the musicians are presented here to a crowd ready to stare, judge and wonder when they'll play "No Surprises" or "Paranoid Android."
They play both during an encore that surpasses the previous ninety minutes, but most have left by that point. Those who stay for "No Surprises" are moved by a timeless tearjerker that's hard to ignore, particularly given still-resonant lines such as, “You look so tired, unhappy/Bring down the government/They don't, they don't speak for us.” With OK Computer celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, both songs' vastly opposing performances showcase why it remains one of the greatest albums of all time.
As many are aware, no Radiohead set list is ever the same, and this weekend varies from the last. Tonight's is less about playing the obvious crowd pleasers and more about diehard fan favorites. The former would have been a safer move given Radiohead's re-entry to the festival this weekend as a band perhaps looking to redeem itself. But Radiohead doesn't play safe. The display possesses the type of confidence that comes from being a band 32 years into its career, having just released one of its most critically acclaimed records in last year's A Moon Shaped Pool. Frenetic takes on that album's tracks, such as "Ful Stop" and "Desert Island Disk," showcase just how vital, forward-facing and expert the members are when it comes to arranging and executing their own brand of rock, one that doesn't sacrifice melody for complexity. They play like a band who still knows what's ahead, one that will never allow itself to date.
"Still here!" jokes Yorke again, while filling the awkward long silences between songs. Each and every track could be a set in itself, such is the level of self-contained performance dedicated to it. Highlights come with "Pyramid Song" which comes over all eery and apocalyptic, "Exit Music (For a Film)," featuring Yorke isolated on stage with his acoustic guitar, and "My Iron Lung," its guitars squealing and screeching as urgently as they did in 1995.
After getting the crowd warmed up for one last dance during "Lotus Flower" and before a final treat of "Idioteque," Yorke quizzically asks: "Can the next contestant come forward?” Maybe he's goading tomorrow night's headliner, or perhaps headliners of the future. More likely, he's searching for the next band to take Radiohead's baton. There's nobody else who comes close.
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Set list below.
Desert Island Disk
All I Need
Everything in Its Right Place
My Iron Lung
I Might Be Wrong
Exit Music (For a Film)
Fake Plastic Trees