Radiohead @ Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA 6/2/06

Sure, we got shut out of NYC. But with the City of Brotherly Love’s warm embrace but a few hours away ($10 on the Chinatown Bus, people; get involved), we made it our business to give it a go. Joining the teeming ticketless masses, milling about Upper Darby’s Tower Theater, hoping for our miracle. By the luck of the ‘gum, it came. We didn’t even have to be this asshole’s date.

It may be passe to claim that you’re an uber-fan (I mean, like, isn’t everybody?), but tell that to the 3,099 other Radioheadheads cramming their way into Tower Theater last night. At a bit over half the capacity of Theater at MSG — with none of its acoustic issues — the intimate venue’s stage was set for a religious experience. Instead, it was merely an above-average Radiohead show: better than most bands on their best days, less than we’ve had from them in the past. But it was a treasured glimpse at the band’s impressive new tunes. And they were impressive.

Looks like you can expect something different each night this tour. In contrast to Thursday night’s opening dramatics, last night Yorke and Co. walked right out into the bright blue stage lights. Ed and Jonny pounding on toms, Thom pounding out the rhythmic riff of “There There.” “Lucky” followed, one of a few OK Computer stand-outs played on the night. By-the-numbers performances, all classic tunes.

Throughout the show, the fragmented shards of screen that lined the back stage wall offered sepia-toned projections of our heroes’ faces (as if seeing Yorke’s anguished face mid-melody wasn’t theatrical enough), while the bright strobe light panels on the stage floor raised the epileptic-fit factor a few notches. Aside from these accoutrements, though, we were left with the band.

And with that two-tune primer, we were on with the new. “15 Step” kicked it off, sounding like Radiohead-gone-calypso, with Ed’s off-beat hand claps and Thom’s snarl and stage-wide shimmy. “Arpeggi” followed up and came off well, with a three-piece suited Selway offering his humanized break beats under a smoldering verse. Ed provided spot on background wails as the song morphed into a delicate, cymbal-rolled chorus.

The rest of the new tunes were mostly hit, little miss. Thom was definitely feeling ‘em, dancing with abandon to anything over 75 BPM. Seems he’s added some running man and hip waggle to his spasmodic shuffle.

There were slower songs that worked, like the cadential piano ballad “4 Minute Warning” (soundtrack fodder for sure) and the sparse, Yorke-driven haunt of “Nude.” But on the tepid “House of Cards,” scared to leave the complacent course it sets for itself, we call foul. A tad staid, Thom.

The remainder of the set was a romp through OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac. “The National Anthem” was killer, with its fuzzed-out bass and bridge-based cacophony. “Let Down” was epic. But the Bends tunes (title track in particular) were most welcomed by the fist-pumping testosterone set. And those songs’ arena-moving muscle were a reminder that the new material — despite the guitars — is still no return to their accessible, Brit-rock past. This band ain’t ready to turn around just yet.

Unlike the night prior, the band ended the second encore after just one song, a furious “Idioteque,” with Selway’s sped-up sample battle and Thom’s cathartic fits. They couldn’t have left anything more on stage. And they couldn’t have left the stage on a higher note.

Radiohead bears comparison only to Radiohead. That said, we got a good show, with expected moments of brilliance, and maybe some dips through the new. But this tour isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about polish. It’s the songs, stupid. And they’re fucking great. Welcome back.

Setlist:
1 There There
2 Lucky
3 15 Step
4 Arpeggi
5 Kid A
6 Dollars and Cents
7 The National Anthem
8 Nude
9 Go Slowly
10 Paranoid Android
11 Spooks
12 The Gloaming
13 Bodysnatchers
14 4 Minute Warning
15 The Bends
16 Everything in its Right Place [“After the Gold Rush” intro]
17 How to Disappear Completely

Encore 1:
18 I Might Be Wrong
19 House of Cards
20 Black Star
21 Let Down

Encore 2:
22 Idioteque