Radiohead at Alpine Vallley, 2003

By Mark Guarino

Radiohead is not your typical big arena rock band that rolls through town every summer. Their songs are not always verse-chorus-verse and don’t strive for a universal consensus. Instead, these are darker, much more personal songs strewn with nuance. That the band amassed a massive following without spelling everything out is a sign of an audience hungry for introspection and pure emotion without line-by-line instructions.   

That doesn’t mean they can’t dance. At Alpine Valley Saturday, the British quintet went into remix mode and turned many of their headphone-only songs into rhythmic bliss. With a backdrop of multi-colored vertical light rods and swirling strobes, the stage looked like an open-air disco. Bassist Colin Greenwood’s instrument supplied the chest-thumping rhythm that, on “The Gloaming,” was manipulated to such an extreme there was buzzing in your veins.    

The raw power the group flexed was poured into making even the most subdued song a rave. With guitarists Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood abandoning their instruments in favor of sitting on their knees to manipulate their guitar pedals, “Everything in Its Right Place,” the eerie and quiet opener to “Kid A” (Capitol), burst into a frenzied noise attack set to a throbbing beat.   

Singer Thom Yorke worked against his reputation for being shy and elusive and proved to be the oddest freeform dancer in rock since David Byrne and the Big Suit. Jumping high into the air and strutting around in a circle, Yorke’s unfettered energy united the crowd several times. On “Idioteque,” with O’Brien’s crescendoing feedback and Greenwood’s programmed pulsations at full blast, Yorke’s frantic body shaking reached ebullience.   

The band worked in extremes, approaching each song like a jazz combo in their search for different interpretations. Yorke frequently sat at an upright piano where his creaky voice would set the mood, later intensified by his band. On “We Suck Young Blood,” one of the many songs they played off their recent album, “Hail To The Thief” (Capitol), thousands in the audience provided the weary fourth-beat handclaps on the record, making it a funeral march with chilling effect.   

The 23-song show clocked in just under two hours, but a large contingent of the crowd missed one-third of the show entirely. That’s because opener Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks went on before the scheduled 7 p.m. start, prompting Radiohead to take the stage well before 8 p.m. and to make an early end before 10 p.m. For those fans stuck in a never-ending cattle line on the rural one-lane roads leading to the venue, there was good reason to feel cheated.

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