Radiohead has its eye on you. Radiohead sees right through you, and it’s clear – not just from its emotional language and chilling synthesized pangs. Thom Yorke actually stares you in the eye while he croons, “You And Whose Army,” bassist Colin Greenwood playing calmly at his side. A live camera zooms close on Yorke’s face, and an oval jumbotron emits his pained expressions.
That eye contact contradicts the prologue audio byte of this 2018 Chicago performance, which is of a voice expressing that it desires not to feel.
However, Saturday night’s performance at the United Center never fell short of making its truest, long-time fans feel, remember and regress. The band pulled out tracks dating back to 1995 and beyond. Radiohead knows its audience, of course, after 30 years; every song’s first bar caused uproar throughout the sold-out arena. Mega fans felt the same age they were when they first watched “Clueless” or the remake of “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) when the band gifted us with “My Iron Lung” and “Exit Music (For a Film).” Moments when we first heard “our songs” in movies, or first watched a movie with that smooth but dissonant sounding background song come to mind.
This was no greatest hits performance for newcomers, no. The last few times Radiohead has stopped in Chicago, it’s focused generally on the same set lists, showcasing “Lucky,” “There There,” “The Gloaming,” and so on. But, Saturday night, the band – Thom Yorke, Phillip Selway, Jonny and Colin Greenwood and Ed O’Brien – stood for two plus hours, bowed gratefully once in awhile and pleased with a multitude of tracks from Hail To The Thief (2003), Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001) and other oldies.
Behind the band hung an oval shaped jumbotron, which displayed mostly digitized geometric shapes, and that sometimes hypnotized. As the band played a song whose lyrics include “I will eat you alive/there’ll be no more lies,” hypnotic circles fused over circular electric bolts. That’s all while the jumbotron resembled what I’d call a lopsided moon, if that is the effect the band is going for, in its A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) tour. It resembled an abyss for the Radiohead audience to fall in, surrounded by a puzzle of ethereal vocals, guitar, synthesizer and drums.
And in between each song, the crowd was lit up by rays reflecting off a disco ball high on the ceiling. The rays depicted a focus on each audience member they shone onto, as the many facets on the disco ball might represent all the worlds and upbringings each person in the arena carries.
While togetherness was doubtless a theme in audience response, Radiohead’s use of venue space wasn’t as unifying as I might have expected. Perhaps it would promote intimacy if the stage were centered.
But we are all one, with feeling, as Thom Yorke’s expressive eye shows us.