Attacking samplers and keyboards with as much fervor as guitars, Radiohead brought the icy textures of its chart-topping new album, "Kid A," to raucous life in New York City on Wednesday night in the band's first U.S. show in two years.
The British band's famously dour frontman, Thom Yorke, appeared to be downright gleeful at times during the sold-out Roseland Ballroom show, which came on the eve of the unexpected debut of "Kid A" as the nation's best-selling album.
"This is for all the people who heard it on Napster," Yorke said, smiling, before playing an unreleased piano ballad tentatively titled "The Pyramid Song" as an encore.
A few minutes earlier, as the techno beats of the new "Idioteque" pulsed behind him, Yorke hurled himself around the stage, egging on the packed crowd with frantic hand gestures in the manner of Underworld vocalist Karl Hyde.
Yorke's high spirits were evident from the beginning: He grinned
broadly as a seven-man horn section walked out with the band for the evening's first song, "The National Anthem" from "Kid A," and almost immediately plunged into his performance.
Yorke frantically stomped his right foot as he roared wordlessly over the bleating horns and fuzz bass of the intro, and without warning, his guttural moans morphed into his familiar, elastic tenor, thickened by layers of reverb.
Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood played an airy keyboard part during "The National Anthem," as he would for much of the night. Yorke also performed without his guitar, downsizing Radiohead's trademark three-guitar attack to Ed O'Brien's rhythm work alone.
After the chiming chords of another new track, "Morning Bell," Yorke and Greenwood reclaimed their guitars for "Airbag," from the band's third album, 1997's "OK Computer."
Greenwood's textural, feedback-and-effects-driven guitar work showed common ground between Radiohead's guitar-rock past and their techno-influenced
The band played much of "Kid A" while also treating the worshipful crowd to several unreleased songs from the album's sessions, as well as favorites from "OK Computer" and 1995's "The Bends."
With ferocious, note-perfect performances of the older songs, Radiohead made it clear that the band has no intention of abandoning the pleasures of rock anytime soon.
"This is a rock song," Yorke proclaimed, as the band burst into the guitar pyrotechnics of the title track from "The Bends" in an encore.
Even as Radiohead reaffirmed its roots, its audience happily embraced the band's new direction.
The crowd, which included singer-songwriter Sean Lennon and at least one of the Beastie Boys, responded enthusiastically, even to such unreleased songs as the funky, keyboard-driven "Dollars And Cents."
"I thought it was great that they played songs that no one had heard before," said Nicholas Lorden, a 22-year-old fan from New York. "They feel free
to do whatever they want, and they know that we'll follow them."
Radiohead is scheduled to play two more North American shows in the near future: a date Tuesday in Toronto and an October 20 performance in Los Angeles.