Where were you when Thom Yorke danced in the rain?
When Radiohead first announced they’d play two shows at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, everyone knew they were in for something special. While the Greek might not be considered intimate by most bands’ standards, it’s downright tiny for a group that normally tours stadiums and headlines festivals.
Radiohead previously played a two-night stint at the Greek in 2006, but in the decade since, the only chance to see them in the Bay Area was at Outside Lands Music Festival in 2008 and 2016.
Their two shows at the Greek thus promised something unique, a chance to buck the shackles of enormous crowds and stick to the hits. In fact, it was Radiohead’s headlining set just three days prior at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that seemed to set the tone for the iconic performance to come.
Plagued by sound issues at Coachella, Radiohead was forced to leave the stage twice on Friday night, and many reported that the audio remained sub par throughout the remainder of that show. For a band that prides itself on crisp sounds and masterful instrumentation, it was clearly an incredibly frustrating ordeal. That the whole affair was also being simulcast around the world likely didn’t help.
On the night of Monday, April 17, Radiohead had something to prove — not to their fans, who likely would’ve been content with anything the band felt like offering — but to themselves.
They hit the stage amidst a light drizzle at precisely 7:30 p.m. Known historically as a nocturnal creature, it was a bit of a thrill to see Yorke and bandmates Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood, and Phil Selway making music under the last gasps of a setting sun.
Before launching into opener “Daydreaming,” Yorke mugged to the crowd as dials were twisted and instruments were tuned. It was a fairly obvious acknowledgement of the Coachella debacle from Friday night, and Yorke’s demeanor — playful, energetic, and gleefully peculiar — would persist for the duration of the show.
Seeing Yorke dance for two hours straight should be on every music fan’s bucket list. Whether he was prancing about with a handheld keyboard on “Desert Island Disk” or convulsing like a maniac during a quickened-tempo rendition of Kid A standout “Everything In Its Right Place,” Yorke could not be contained. He was a man possessed by the music he created, jerking his slender frame into strange angles as a lavish light show cast his profile in every flavor of the rainbow.
“I wish we could take you all with us to Coachella next weekend,” he enthused, and I have no doubts that in that moment, the soggy but beaming crowd would’ve followed the puffy vest and black Psycho T-shirt singer to the ends of the earth.
Also of note was the evening’s weather, a foreboding gray that blessedly never turned torrential. Droplets first touched down 11 songs into the set during “Bloom,” and again appeared while the band performed a haunting take on “The Gloaming” from 2003’s Hail to the Thief. While the prospect of rain had initially threatened to dampen the show’s spirits, it became, instead, part of the performance, sort of like a confluence of clouds that stopped the rest of the world from interrupting a sacred ritual.
Had there been a drought, one could believe that Yorke’s fragile falsetto on “Fake Plastic Trees” might’ve summoned a downpour, or that the lush gloom of “Lucky” could’ve conjured flowers to bloom on command. This is not hyperbole — nature was in the ether Monday night, glistening on the grass and forming condensation on each gleaming note.
Amongst many contenders, it’s possible nothing topped the band’s mid-set take on “My Iron Lung.” Greenwood struck his guitar as though it were a rabid animal poised to bite him, angrily demanding his instrument to produce the notes that constitute the song’s ebulliently chaotic breakdown. Another highlight was a rare appearance of the OK Computer cut “The Tourist,” a pensive ode to the beauty of going slow.
It’s hard to truly capture the transfixing magic of Radiohead live at the peak of their powers. Your eyes become greedy, darting from the storm of strobes to Yorke’s mesmerizing whirls across the stage, to Greenwood’s intense ferocity channeled into whatever toy happens to be in his hands. To be saturated in such a rich array of sounds and sights is to understand why Radiohead seems to exist in a spectrum beyond criticism and song charts, and instead live in a place where the moment simply speaks for itself.
However, after two glorious hours, that moment did finally lapse into silence.
The band left the stage for good after ending their second encore with a blistering delivery of “Idioteque,” an ecstatic symphony of cooing computers, dizzying syncopation, and the figure of Yorke in the throes of a musical exorcism. After waving goodbye, everyone took a moment to accept the conclusion of what we’d just witnessed.
The crowd would’ve stayed for more. They would’ve stayed if the skies opened up and huddled together as bolts of lightning tore the sky, but there was simply nothing left to offer.
On Monday night, Radiohead set out to remind everyone why they are, quite simply, the best live act in the world. And they did that over and over and over again.
“Desert Island Disk”
“Morning Mr. Magpie”
“Exit Music (for a Film)”
“All I Need”
“Everything in Its Right Place”
“My Iron Lung”
“I Might Be Wrong”
“Burn the Witch”
“Fake Plastic Trees”
“You and Whose Army?”