Radiohead: Straight, No Chaser

Radiohead performs live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York on Sept. 28.

Radiohead performs live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York on Sept. 28. Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Have you ever seen The Beatles' first show in America, where George Harrison physically turns Ringo's rickety bandstand around to face the crowd? High expectations can paint a more regal portrait than reality — that is, until the music kicks in.

And so it was for Radiohead Wednesday night — the first of two nights at Roseland Ballroom in New York City, the band's only concerts in a very short trip. At various points in the show, stagehands carried synthesizers on stage, sometimes tripping over cables, sending the vocal mic crashing to the stage floor. But once the band started playing, everything truly was in its right place.

The new guy was drummer No. 2, Clive Deamer (Portishead, Hawkwind). The addition was subtle at times, but made some of the jerky rhythms of loops and Phil Selway on King of Limbs come to life on stage.

With a minimal light- and stage show for this two-night stint, all the focus was on the music — no distractions and all the surprises in the songs. We heard the magic of a band so inside its own tunes that it can rebuild them on the fly, making them fresh and playful. That's a wonderful thing for the audience at the Roseland: a group of hardcore fans who know every song by the first note, some even by the tuning of the guitars, and it made the journey through those songs even more of an adventure.

Radiohead couldn't have taken that journey with a better crowd — a crowd which, despite the house lights coming on, despite the roadies packing up the stage, despite the house music playing, pulled the band back on stage for a second encore with a passionate roar. It was an unplanned encore — a true encore. As Thom Yorke walked around the group, from Ed O'Brien to Colin Greenwood and everyone else, figuring out the next tune (it was "Nude"), there was a joy we all felt. We witnessed something genuine, stripped to its essence: a stunning band and its music. As a crowd, we had big ideas; last night, they happened.

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