Radiohead plus The Black Keys - The Theatre at MSG

Fluxblog made a point yesterday that's occurred to me before but never in so many words - Radiohead shows are, for the most part, relatively equal in quality. The band is always tight and energetic and never less than professional, messing with the songs enough to keep things interesting but sticking close enough to the script that you basically know what you're going to get. The shows that stand out, then, seem to separate themselves from the pack not because the performance was especially strong - you can say that about almost any night - but more for the smaller details - setlist, seats, intangibles. I'll remember Tuesday's show as my first time with the new songs, but last night's gig was, for me, the keeper of the pair. Why? Location, location, location.

I felt really far away on Tuesday but last night found me just three people back from the stage. It was packed tight in front of Jonny Greenwood's side before the Black Keys' set, but Ed O'Brien's side was wide open and we took advantage. I'll watch Jonny over Ed any day but, as with any band, being up close with a clear view of everyone makes all the difference. The songs all felt way more energetic, with selections that felt a little tired on Tuesday (e.g. "Idioteque") taking on new life. The setlist was the better of the two too - "Wolf at the Door," "Paranoid Android," "Pyramid Song," "Dollars and Cents," "My Iron Lung," and "Just" were among the welcome additions. The new songs - that Fluxblog review describes them well - were basically the same (alas no "House of Cards"), and strong (especially "Bodysnatchers" and "Down is the New Up").

But the show's highlight, and by a long shot, was "The Tourist" to close the night. It's one of my absolute favorite Radiohead songs, literally the song I've been pulling for (along with "Planet Telex") every time I've seen them. Finally hearing it live again made my night, especially with Thom Yorke working the washed-out feedback on his guitar between verses. I couldn't have asked for a better ending.

I thought the Black Keys were way better tonight too. They're a band better suited to small clubs - enjoyable if you can see what they're doing, especially the drummer. But I still wish we got Deerhoof out east. Ah well.

Between all their New York City gigs and more, I've gotten well into the double digits with Radiohead shows over the years, but last night was my first time seeing them since October 2003 - a break notable not only for its length but also for how little I actually listened to them. I think the time off was good for all parties. When you see a band so much, you like to see their treatment of the songs evolve, and Radiohead have always been quite good at that. Last night was no exception - the older songs seemed slightly stripped down and less bombastic, the grooves a bit more tweaked out and taut. "You And Whose Army?" worked well as an opener but things started to really click for me during "2+2=5." "Kid A" sounds different every time I see it, and last night's version was the most faithful I've heard. I think I prefer the looser, dancier version they were doing in '03, but the song still kills live - an automatic highlight. The Kid A songs in general (esp. "Morning Bell") were the best of the old ones - they're a bit more malleable and the band takes advantage. "The Bends," "Fake Plastic Trees," and "I Might Be Wrong" were also excellent.

The new songs were the night's clear highlights for me, though - "15 Step," "Bangers N Mash," "Bodysnatchers," "Down is the New Up," and "House of Cards" in particular. This was my first time hearing the new stuff and it's great to see the band exploring some new directions, with dance music and R&B; definitely exerting some influence. Being a bit more familiar with it now, I can't wait to hear the new material again tonight. I'm also hoping the setlist gets a little crazier - they mostly stuck to their live staples last night, and "Planet Telex" and "The Tourist" would be wonderful additions for round II. My seats were my biggest gripe about the show - off to the left, next to some talkers, and feeling far away - but I'll be up close in the GA tonight. Looking forward to it!

The Black Keys were good as openers, though I think their two-man setup is best for their louder material. The slow songs had trouble keeping the crowd's attention. I liked them though. (The California Radiohead crowds are lucky enough to have Deerhoof as openers.)