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Radiohead in fine form as new tour kicks off in Chicago

Radiohead performs the first of two nights at Chicago's United Center on July 6, 2018. | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Every year, wishful Lollapalooza forecasters have their money on Radiohead headlining. And almost every year they are wrong. To be fair, Radiohead may hold the title as one of the best Lollapalooza artists ever (remember the unplanned, unrelated fireworks display during “Fake Plastic Trees” in 2008 that was nothing short of an act of God?). Or their glorious return in 2016 (which was filmed in full for the http://www.radiohead.tv channel)?

Thom Yorke of Radiohead at the band's first of two nights at the United Center, July 6, 2018. | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Thom Yorke of Radiohead at the band’s first of two nights at the United Center, July 6, 2018. The band is touring in support of its latest album “A Moon Shaped Pool.” | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Dreams were dashed in February when the cultish British electro rock band announced a massive U.S. tour, extending the support for their Mercury Prize and Grammy-nominated 2016 album “A Moon Shaped Pool” and forgoing the festival circuit in favor of arenas.

At least they opted to kick the tour off in Chicago with two shows at the United Center. As night one began Friday, there was affirmation they made the right choice for the road trek. The nuanced, eclectic, ear-specific sounds of Radiohead — orchestrated by five exemplary multi-instrumentalists who have kept their unique chemistry intact for 30 years — is best kept to four-walled spaces where fans can be happily suffocated by the chorus of beautiful, disparate noises.

Although the United Center may be large capacity, the no-frills stage, minimalist turnover and billowing pit of people on the floor was more reminiscent of the band’s first Chicago gig, at the Metro some 25 years ago, in support of their original stateside hit, “Pablo Honey.” (Well, except for the waiting in line at 9 a.m. to receive a first come-first serve wristband for the GA pit.)

Ed O'Brien of Radiohead at the band's first of two nights at the United Center. | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Ed O’Brien of Radiohead is photographed at the band’s first of two nights at the United Center, July 6, 2018. | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

Radiohead, comprised of frontman Thom Yorke, instrument whiz Jonny Greenwood and his bassist brother Colin Greenwood, guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer/percussionist Philip Selway, played very few selections from “Pablo Honey,” save for a rare rendition of “Blow Out” to start their second encore, completely glossing over arguably their biggest hit, “Creep.” Instead, the troupe stuck heavily to “A Moon Shaped Pool,” as well as the 2007 landmark ‘pay-what-you-want’ album “In Rainbows” and the well-aged 2000 masterwork “Kid A,” which transformed the band from a guitar-driven ensemble to an ambient discotheque full of synths and drum machines.

That frenetic energy was on full display during “Idioteque” and “Morning Bell,” the latter a strobe-fueled hallucinatory trip that punctuated a rather slow start to the night, which showcased the sleepy “Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk.”

The collection of instruments the band packed with them for the tour was evidence of the cinematic, orchestral output they had planned — Yorke even leading the audience in a round of applause for the stagehands that kept having to roll two pianos in and out. (Jonny Greenwood is a
frequent collaborator with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and Yorke most recently lent his hand to compositions for the new “Suspiria” remake,)

Though there were minor hiccups on the first night of the new tour, notably Yorke cussing himself out for forgetting the words to “Decks Dark,” the band was as polished as expected.

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

Set List:
1. Daydreaming
2. Desert Island Disk
3. Ful Stop
4. Morning Bell
5. Myxomatosis
6. All I Need
7. Pyramid Song
8. Paranoid Android
9. Decks Dark
10. Let Down
11. Bloom
12. The Numbers
13. How to Disappear Completely
14. Reckoner
15. Lotus Flower
16. Idioteque
17. Everything in its Right Place
18. Burn the Witch
19. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
20. Fake Plastic Trees
21. Nude
22. 15 Step
23. Blow Out
24. No Surprises
25. There There

Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead performs at the United Center, July 6, 2018. | Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times