By MARK GUARINO
Daily Herald Music Critic
At the exact moment Radiohead struck its first notes Wednesday at Hutchinson Field, 25,000 people – sedate until now – lunged forward at least 20 feet. But considering the show was the equivalent of Ravinia for hipsters, the two hours that followed was peaceful and mesmerizing.
The experiment of hosting a major league rock show on Chicago Park District land was, for the most part, a success. In fact, Radiohead’s first Chicago show in three years on a collection of softball diamonds in south Grant Park offered music fans a pristine sound system and a warm vibe not common at most arena-sized rock shows.
Thank Radiohead for both. The British art pop band’s obsession for quality sound resulted in a crystal clear mix that puts sorry concrete caverns like the Tweeter Center and the Allstate Arena to shame. Even standing on Columbus Drive, listeners could hear every tap of Johnny Greenwood’s xylophone mallet and every beat rattling in his shaker.
It was a benefit for the more textural songs form the band’s recent bookend albums, “Kid A” (Capitol) and “Amnesiac” (Capitol).
Low-key ambient songs like “Idioteque” and “How To Disappear Completely” locked into grooves that became trance-like under the open sky. Some, like “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” surpassed their living room listens, the Everyman paranoia of the lyrics pushed to the frantic heights by the furious guitars.
Radiohead’s previous incarnation as alt.rock guitar heroes was not completely ignored. “Karma Police” was trimmed to a more folkier campfire song, with Greenwood’s clunky piano playing and singer Thom Yorke on acoustic guitar. Amid the two hours of mostly synthesizer and bass grooves exploded “Paranoid Android”which erupted into full-blown guitar glory.
Despite his reputation as a highbrow auteur, Yorke routinely winked at the crowd, either by dancing as if his pants were injected with an ant colony, dropping his microphone stand into the crowd or the time he sat at the piano and mugged at the camera, his image stretched across two large video screens.
Even without the four walls of a stadium, it stood tall on is own merit, the way a stadium-size rock event should.