Radiohead: writhing and rocking at Verizon

Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post - Ed O'Brien and Thom Yorke of Radiohead perform at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. It was the first time the band performed in the metro-D.C. area since their infamous show in the rain at Nissan Pavilion in 2008.

After so many seasons of ponderous gloom, Thom Yorke just wants to shake it.

The Radiohead frontman was all wiggles and wriggles at a sold-out Verizon Center on Sunday night, leading one of the most sophisticated rock bands on the planet with the abandon of a drunken Jazzercize instructor. He skipped in circles. He fluttered his spirit fingers without shame. He danced the way the rest of us dance when no one is looking.

(Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.
  • (Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.
  • (Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Ed O'Brien of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.
  • (Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.
  • (Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.

(Kyle Gustafson/ For The Washington Post ) - Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at the Verizon Center.

Everyone was looking, of course. For two hours, fans kept their eyes locked on Yorke’s every shimmy, the bravest mimicking his serpentine arm gestures like belly dancers in training. But they did so very quietly, maintaining a reverent hush that felt alien at a rock concert of this size. When one fan let a whoop of admiration escape from his lungs during the piano ballad “Codex,” you could hear it across the stadium. It was immediately followed by another dude yelling, “Shut up!”

That’s the group’s legacy, right there. No other rock band in history has asked us to shush and pay attention quite like Radiohead. Since issuing their twin masterpieces — 1997’s “OK Computer” and 2000’s “Kid A” — the British quintet have been making world-weary, detail-oriented rock-n-roll that demands our undivided hyper-awareness. Album after album, the music has escalated into higher definition, reflecting the claustrophobic complexities of the information age.

Area faithful were finally able to bask in those granular details without any distractions, thanks to the Verizon Center roof overhead. When Radiohead performed at the venue formerly known as Nissan Pavilion in 2008, a downpour soaked fans and flooded nearby roads. In 2001, torrential rains forced the band to nix two concerts at Bull Run Park in Centreville. And before Radiohead’s set at 1998’s Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium, one fan was struck by lightning (and survived).

Those tornadoes that swept through the region on Friday afternoon? They were 48 hours early.

Yorke didn’t acknowledge the storms of yesteryear on Sunday, but he did thank the audience repeatedly for coming out on a work night. A majority of the set was culled from the band’s two most recent albums, 2007’s “In Rainbows” and 2011’s “The King of Limbs,” giving the concert an ethereal feel that proved the band is now more concerned with texture than songcraft.

Touring member Clive Deamer joined drummer Phil Selway on a second drum kit, supplanting the chattering electronic beats of the band’s recordings with dueling pitter-pats. Instead of providing more punch, the duo made the proceedings feel music-box delicate.

During selections from “OK Computer,” however, guitarist Jonny Greenwood reminded everyone this was a rock concert. His opening riff during “Airbag” felt commanding and expansive, as if it had been written specifically to rattle eardrums on the 400-level. The band also summoned some of its new-school sensitivity for “Paranoid Android,” giving it a lilting, Latin feel that made Greenwood’s jagged guitar solo finale all the more gripping.

Maybe fans weren’t expecting the hits. “Meeting in the Aisle,” an “OK Computer”-era instrumental B-side, was greeted with in-the-know cheers.

Between songs, a squadron of stagehands swapped out instruments, giving the show an air of high-tech professionalism. But it squelched the band’s momentum. While the roadies scrambled, Yorke paced the stage, perhaps fully aware that the band’s most impressive instrument was housed inside his neck. His consonant-averse mewling had an undeniable finesse, helping push the moody atmospherics of “Feral” and “There There” toward delirious abstraction.

These weren’t the kind of songs that made your heart race. They were the kind that you felt on your skin. And if you were Thom Yorke, they made you want to dance.

 
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