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Ruling Toyota

Radiohead keeps pulling off surprises: Why this tour is so shocking — and good

Preparing for a Radiohead concert is risky business. One cannot simply listen to an album, memorize the words and be done with it. The band is far too unpredictable for that sort of thing.

Instead, Radiohead has made a career out of constantly reinventing itself on each album and playing its songs however the band wants in between recording sessions.

Saturday night’s show at the Toyota Center was no different, with Houstonians getting several treats that were sure to make anyone that was following the #Radiohead hashtag green with envy.

Yorke put on a few of his patented dance moves, much to the crowd’s delight. 

The night opened with a gorgeous version of “Bloom” off of last year’s The King Of Limbs and continued on with 22 more songs, including three tour debuts (“15 Step,” “Paranoid Android” and a solo collaboration between vocalist/guitarist Thom Yorke and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood called “These Are My Twisted Words”) as well as two new songs.

Both of the new offerings were heavy on the electronic tinkering and dance beats that Radiohead has been bringing to the forefront for the last decade, yet each song managed to sound completely original. “Cut A Hole,” the first of the two, was heavy on the synthesizers that slowly climbed to a big crescendo, while the second debut,“Indentikit,” sounded like an updated take on Yorke’s minimalist 2006 solo album, The Eraser

Both songs were well received by the packed arena and are sure to become live hits very soon. Houston was only the second city to hear “Cut a Hole” since it premiered earlier in Miami.

Among the better-known songs, there was still a lot to be surprised by. Songs that fans have known for years, like “Airbag,” “There There,” or “Idioteque” all took on a new menace, while the most recent material from The King Of Limbs translated better than I could have ever have hoped for live.

On nearly every song, the band could be caught strutting and gyrating while the packed house clapped on. From my close spot near the right side of the stage, I think I even caught guitarist Ed O’Brien smiling throughout the show.

Perhaps the best example of how loose the band sounded was during a slightly reworked version of “Good Morning, Mr. Magpie” from The King of Limbs. Greenwood added detuned guitar flourishes while the rest of the band took the normally mid-tempo song up a few notches. All the while, Yorke put on a few of his patented dance moves, much to the crowd’s delight.

Radiohead's plan to conquer Houston was working and we were only four songs in!

The Quiet

The evening wasn’t a one trick-pony though. Some of the better moments could be found in some of the quieter ballads.

“Codex,” one of the highlights from The King Of Limbs, was a perfectly timed breather for the band as well as the audience. The piano line sauntered to a near stand still while Yorke softly delivered the lines to the crowd.

 Quieter pieces went far to punctuate the set list with the sort of emotional shifts that make Radiohead albums such enjoyable listens from start to finish. 

Moments like this were few and far between in the Toyota Center, reoccurring most prominently with the back-to-back lullabies of “Give Up The Ghost” and “Nude” later in the second encore. These quieter pieces went far to punctuate the set list with the sort of emotional shifts that make Radiohead albums such enjoyable listens from start to finish.

The night was full of wild and entertaining moments, yet there’s little doubt that the biggest surprise on Saturday was the show closer, “Paranoid Android,” from the seminal 1997 album OK Computer. Though one of the most well known Radiohead songs, it hadn’t made an appearance on the tour before the Houston show.

You’d have to sort of think that Thom Yorke caught wind of Weezer’s cover last summer and couldn’t wait to offer his version for Houstonians to decide. The crowd sang along to every last word and the fantastic light show followed along with the music.

If this had been a contest, easy money says that Radiohead won this one by a landslide. Let’s all hope that they come back very soon.

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