Tuesday night they played the first of two shows at the roughly 20,000-seat Wells Fargo Center to support their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
A lot has changed since 1993. Brick-sized cell phones became iPhones, Blockbuster became Netflix and at some point Radiohead’s Thom Yorke went from being a sniffling indie creep to a homeless Japanese fisherman with a man bun. But one thing that’s stayed the same is that Radiohead still packs venues — just bigger venues than before.
Radiohead’s first venture into South Philly came on June 23, 1993, on the band’s first American tour (The Pablo Honey Tour), when they met fans on South Street to play the Theatre of Living Arts. Last Tuesday night, they played the first of two shows at the roughly 20,000-seat Wells Fargo Center to support their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
As the lights went out and Yorke made his way to the stage dressed in a plain navy T-shirt and dad jeans, the band broke into “Daydreaming,” a song from Pool that’s in keeping with Radiohead’s avant garde post-The Bends sound they’ve adopted and retained since the late ‘90s/early 2000s. If you went to the show and you’re a fan of this brand of Radiohead, you were in luck. Only a small minority of the band’s 25-song set consisted of material from earlier records such as The Bends and OK Computer, including “No Surprises,” and “Airbag” from OK Computer and “Fake Plastic Trees” off The Bends. “Talk Show Host,” a Bends-era B-side, was the biggest surprise of the night. Among the other tracks performed were several other songs from Pool, including “Present Tense,” “Ful Stop” and “Desert Island Desk,” and a selection of other tracks from the early part of the century, including Kid A’s “The National Anthem,” Hail to the Thief’s “2 + 2 = 5” and Amnesiac’s “Pyramid Song.”
Yorke, never known the most social of rockstars, kept the conversations to a minimum. Between the second and third songs he greeted the Philadelphians before him with a warm “good evening.” The only other times he spoke were to thank the crowd at the end, to introduce “A Wolf at the Door” (“This song is called ‘A Wolf at the Door,’” Yorke emoted), and to make some unintelligible quip about being dizzy about halfway through the set. While he sung, Yorke swayed back and forth, slivering like a salamander. About half the audience emulated the strange dance while the other half stood patiently still, studying the habits and musicianship of the six English lads from Oxfordshire before them.
Jonny Greenwood proved himself to be the most versatile of the band, playing guitar, piano and percussion throughout the course of the show — in addition to also performing in the evening’s opening act, Junun.
If there’s anything Radiohead proved at the Wells Fargo Center, it’s that headlining arenas isn’t just for pop stars. Rock bands can still do it too, and Radiohead does it very well.