There was a decidedly unique atmosphere inside PPG Paints Arena as Radiohead made its first appearance in the Steel City in 21 years. Not only was there an excitement and anticipation for the end of a long wait, there was a reverent understanding from the audience that they were in the presence of greatness.
It’s practically redundant to mention at this point but Radiohead remains the most innovative band of its generation. They are now in the truly rare air of being able to do whatever they want and play to thousands upon thousands of fans. Perhaps even more impressive than their studio wizardry though is a commitment to genuinely re-produce their incredibly dense music live. In an era where many bands of arena-sized stature play the same set list accompanied by pre-recorded tracks, Radiohead is 100% live and totally unpredictable. It’s a ride unlike any other.
That ride began with a soft lift off, “Daydreaming” from Radiohead’s most recent excellent album A Moon Shaped Pool. Though “15 Step,” a personal favorite from In Rainbows, garnered one of the more enthusiastic responses of the show, the night’s first transcendent moment belonged to “Airbag,” one of four tracks from OK Computer the Pittsburgh crowd was treated to.
Thom Yorke was in fine form – brooding, lyrical, and agile. The frontman’s falsetto and general quirkiness are a practically a cliche in of itself at this point but he remains captivating. Radiohead’s MVP however is Jonny Greenwood. He is a mad scientist of a musician, rarely playing only one instrument on a given song and seems to always be making an impressive assembly of noise. Ed O’Brien’s guitar playing, while never flashy, does wonders in grounding some of the band’s more elaborate soundscapes.
Embracing an unpredictable set also means accepting its flaws and the middle third of Radiohead’s main block included some forgettable cuts from Amnesiac and The King Of Limbs. But the band finished out strong with “Fake Plastic Trees,” (the closest there will ever be get to a sing a long at a Radiohead show), “Paranoid Android” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out.”
There was no doubt this was a show and a band worth waiting for. If Pittsburgh concert goers have to wait a long time before seeing Radiohead again, there’s no doubt this band provided enough in the form of fulfilling musical memories to last.
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