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    Radiohead Lacking Coldplay's Accessibility With New Material

    thomyorke1.jpgLong, after the ignominious death of so-called "art rock,'' the English quintet Radiohead gave a 2140 performance Friday at Berkeley's Greek Theater that was the aural equivalent of a modernist painting by Salvador Dali or Jackson Pollock.


    For almost two hours, in an outdoor show where the thick fog seemed to be a special effect, this band showed its softer, dreamier side with its own version of clocks melting -- ambient, spacey music that sounded like soundtracks to films not yet made, bathed in purple and blue lights.


    With a much tamer set than it played three years ago at Shoreline Amphitheatre for the release of its "Hail to the Thief'' disc, this band, which has been compared to U2 and the Beatles, debuted almost a dozen new songs, all pleasing, and a few that strayed into new territory for these staid Brits, with hints of American funk and soul.It may have disappointed some fans who longed for more familiar songs, or the higher intensity of past shows, but, for those with the patience to listen to something new, it was a majestic night from a group that lacks U2's charisma, or Coldplay's accessibility, but is at the cutting edge of exploring new sounds and pushing the borders of rock.


    The theater was packed like sardines in a crushed tin box, if I can borrow a song title from the band's 2001 "Amnesiac'' album, and the audience, like the show, was lower key than years past. But this was a special, smaller venue 19-city tour, a chance to let devoted fans hear the new material, rather than the past arena spectacles.


    Singer Thom Yorke, whose first solo disc "The Eraser'' is due out July 10, joked and apologized for delivering so much new music. After opening on piano and Rudy Vallee voice on "You and Whose Army'' and a "National Anthem'' that, as always, threatened to fall apart under guitarist Johnny Greenwood's strange assaults, Yorke ended the "foreplay'' and launched into a new tune with a surprisingly disco beat.


    "What the ...?'' he said, imitating what the audience was thinking.


    It was a pattern that continued: a familiar, hummable, "Morning Bell,'' and then something new. A phenomenal "There There'' and "Like Spinning Plates,'' like Radiohead on random shuffle, into more new songs. Yorke shifted from piano, to guitar, to nerdy, dancing singer, all with the endearing and awkward grace of a kindergartner in his first school play.


    This guy is no Mick Jagger, but a self-professed "creep and weirdo'' whose songwriting is among rock's most sophisticated. Last year, Spin magazine voted 1997's "OK Computer,'' the best album of the past 20 years and the band has subtly picked up the strains of art rock without sinking under its pretentions.


    The band's main strength is its ability to sound ancient and new at once. Its lyrical themes tend toward science-fiction, with references to androids, amnesia, clones and the like. But the lyrics are dwarfed by its symphonic renderings of chord progressions that conjure the rich depths of Latin hymnals, Hebrew psalms or Celtic dirges.


    It's not so much what Yorke is saying, because often his voice is like an orchestral instrument, a crying violin or moaning bassoon, but the way he casually inserts lush, dark passages that have little precedent in rock music.


    In fact, as a longtime fan of the band, I can't tell you what one song after the early 1990s hit "Creep'' is about (the same is true of Coldplay). He might as well be singing in another language. Yet, some lyrics glom onto my brain and bring forth almost primordial emotions, beyond logical description, like Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong'':


    "Let's go down the waterfall


    Have ourselves a good time, it's nothing at all.''


    Or the same album's "Pyramid'':


    "I jumped in the river and what did I see?


    black-eyed angels swimming with me


    a moon full of stars and astral cars.''


    They were two of many haunting songs Friday, unabashedly steeped in enough mysterious balderdash to make Robert Plant less regretful of his hedgerows and May queens.


    But like "Stairway to Heaven,'' this band is producing rock that will last long enough to be considered classic.


    Source: http://www.mercurynews.com

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