Radiohead may or may not be the best rock band in the world, but it can’t be accused of resting on its considerable laurels.
Led by a kinetic vocalist Thom Yorke, the group opened a two-night busman’s holiday at a sold-out Berkeley Greek Theatre Monday night – the band plays again Tuesday – with a sterling two-hour, 15-minute set that make a believer out the band’s few doubters. The Northern California dates are sandwiched between two weekend headlining stints at the Coachella Festival.
Yorke even told the adoring crowd at one point he’d love to have them come back south to Southern California with the band. Though Yorke is not excessively chatty onstage, he and his bandmates continually acknowledged the raucous audience and the waves of applause they received returning the appreciation with a smartly paced package of songs from throughout the band’s 30-plus years together.
Radiohead is a decidedly art rock band but has managed to turn its creative impulses into an extremely successful career, which is up-to-the-minute in its adaptation, digital distribution and nontraditional marketing. Through a variety of fan-friendly initiatives, the band has demonstrated a positive attitude toward noncommercial internet distribution, which seems to have only increased their popularity. The 2016 “A Moon Shaped Pool” was Radiohead’s sixth UK No. 1 album. It was the fifth Radiohead album nominated for the British Isles’ prestigious Mercury Prize, the most shortlisted act in the award’s history.
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They also deliver live, turning out 25 songs, including three encores, to an audience that often swayed and bounced to the music despite sporadic gentle rain showers.
Yorke was always center stage, flanked by guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien with bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway angled behind. Tour drummer Clive Deamer freed up Selway for various percussion and electronic additions and ultimately emphasized how much rhythm means to the group.
The music rises and falls through its elaborate webbed textures more than catchy riffs. Some of the songs included were a quartet from their seminal 1997 album “OK Computer”: “Exit Music,” “No Surprises,” “Lucky” and “The Tourist.” Other standouts were “Everything in Its Right Place,” “Bloom,” “I Might Be Wrong” and “The Gloaming.” The first encore included “Burn the Witch” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” and the second encore featured the crowd-pleasing “You and Whose Army?”
The tour stage crew never flagged, wheeling various guitars, pianos and keyboards on and off the stage for Yorke and Greenwood in an intricate choreographed dance made more more impressive knowing the group famously changes its set lists for each show.
The band will headline huge outdoor festivals most of the summer playing to crowds 10 times larger than Monday night’s audience, all of whom went home understanding what the deal is all about.