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JUNE 21, 2006
Live Review: Radiohead Chicago June 20, 2006

Radiohead_liveI wanted to call this post "Toilet Trained and Dumb," when I heard Thom Yorke sing that great and poignant line in the first encore opener "My Iron Lung." Now I know it's not protocol to begin a live show review by talking about what the band did for the encore, but who said a review had to follow any particular criteria?

This thought crossed my mind while reading some reviews of recent Radiohead shows. The critics talk about the band's flair and artistry with gorgeous prose, describing songs in intricate detail, not necessarily making me want to hang on every word, but fast-forward to the end.

For me, I don't necessarily need to know every little detail about a live show, just the big parts.

And tonight's second Radiohead show at Chicago's Auditorium Theater had a lot of big parts.

For starters, the band walked onto the stage in darkness to the familiar sounds of overdubbed computer-generated chatter. Next, a dark screen behind the stage fell to the floor revealing about a dozen non-symmetrically shaped video screens projecting the band's live performance throughout the night. Shadowed in black and white, Radiohead's moving, singing, playing images reminded me of a 1950's film noir revealing layered scenes from a murder mystery -- and this was its soundtrack.

As has been reported, the band pulled out about nine new songs throughout the night, many of which show yet another level in the band's ever-expanding, experimental repertoire. But two in particular, "15 Step" and "Bangers 'n Mash," got me into a groove that reminded me the boys had just been to Bonnaroo. I forget that Radiohead, hailed as a champion of experimental space rock, can really boogie down. Thom Yorke was doing a little bit of the hippie, hippie shake, especially on "Bangers" when he was cutting loose with a tambourine. The guy has a great amount of jiggle and soul in his little British body -- and Phil Selway's funky drumming helped kick up the dust.

Interspersed throughout the two-plus hour, 23-song set were a mix-up of tunes from all their albums -- "Airbag," "2+2=5," "Street Spirit," "No Surprises." But, and here's where we bring things full circle, it was during the two encores that the Auditorium Theater saw 14 years of fantastic music come to a head. "My Iron Lung" -- BAM. "The Bends" -- BAM. "Myxomatosis" -- BAM BAM. Crunchy licks. Haunting Vocals. Scintillating percussion. Not to mention Jonny Greenwood. Need I say more?

I've had the pleasure of seeing Radiohead now three times -- all in small venues (Chicago's Metro, the Rosemont Theater and now here). Every time was as big and powerful as the last because the band can make the largest space fit into their enormous presence. And while Thom has been known to be a little mopey and not always talkative to audiences or the press, he created an atmosphere where it was obvious he didn't want to be anywhere else tonight. He danced and cavorted, smiled and gleamed and looked out into the audience as if to say, "remember this moment. we're all lucky to be here sharing this night."

And for the few thousand of us inside the space, we nodded in total agreement.

(thanks to Green Plastic for posting the set list so fast.)

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