Mystique is hard to come by these days, a victim of you name it: technology, social media and the information glut. Even people who crave privacy have trouble maintaining it. Yet somehow Radiohead manages to elude the spotlight and sustain the balance between personal privacy and rock-star fame.
Wednesday night, the British rock band visited the Sprint Center for the second time in five years — and only its second time ever in Kansas City. And for the second time, it took a nearly sold-out arena crowd on an emotional voyage, one that aroused, at times concurrently, excitement and nostalgia.
Fittingly, Radiohead took the stage in darkness, gliding into the ambient “Daydreaming,” a track from their latest album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Not long into the song, a blizzard of white lasers from behind the band erupted upward and into the rafters accompanied by a burst of twinkling lights — the start of a continuous and dazzling visual show that included plenty of graphics displayed on the large oval screen at the back of the set.
Thom Yorke is the band’s slight and impish frontman, a singer who can sound alien during one song and angelic during the next. He had little to say throughout the nearly two and a half hour show nor did he flash many of his patented, quirky dance moves. Yet he easily commanded the stage.
His vocals are an important component of Radiohead’s sound, and on this night he was up to the task, whether it was mustering a falsetto during “Nude” or something more crazed and frantic during “You and Whose Army.”
The sound from my seat was relatively clean all night, though there were moments when the band’s thunder threatened to overwhelm Yorke’s voice. But I heard from a couple of people sitting in the upper decks that the vocals were either muddy or way too low.
What makes Radiohead such an exceptional and exciting live band is its ability to deliver with both abandon and precision the dynamic energy and captivating moods of their studio recordings. All night they shifted deftly from heavy, ecstatic rock throw-downs to quiet, lush lullabies and hymns, showing off their command of many styles.
They were augmented by touring drummer Clive Deamer (Portishead). Otherwise, it was all Radiohead showing off seemingly with ease the kind of virtuosity that comes from decades of music fellowship: Yorke, who played guitar and piano; guitar ace Jonny Greenwood; guitarist Ed O’Brien; bassist Colin Greenwood; and drummer Philip Selway.
The set list spanned the band’s catalog, which goes back nearly 25 years and comprises nine albums — each one stylistically different from its predecessors.
It featured more than half the tracks on “Moon Shaped Pool,” including the stellar “Burn the Witch,” “Identikit” and “Present Tense.”
It also pulled heavily from the “In Rainbows” album, now 10 years old. Tracks like “15 Step,” “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “Nude” and the mournfully seductive “All I Need” were among the evening’s many highlights.
So were the cuts from “OK Computer,” which turns 20 this summer: “Airbag,” “Lucky” and “Karma Police,” which stoked an attentive, appreciative and, at times, contemplative crowd into one of several frenzies.
There were plenty of visuals to indulge in, none more dramatic (disturbing?) than the extreme close-up of one of Yorke’s eyeballs during “You and Whose Army,” a standout from the “Amnesiac” album.
They closed with a long, three-part encore that ended with the “Hail to the Thief” track “There There.” It includes the catch line “Just ‘cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there,” a sentiment Radiohead defied all night. There were plenty of feelings felt and exhibited in the Sprint Center on Wednesday night, thanks to this extraordinary band and the aura it has sustained.
Daydreaming; Desert Island Disk; Ful Stop; Airbag; 15 Step; The National Anthem; Separator; All I Need; Street Spirit; Bloom; I Might Be Wrong; Identikit; Weird Fishes; Idioteque; Where I End and You Begin; Lucky; Present Tense. Encore: Give Up the Ghost; Burn the Witch; Reckoner; Fake Plastic Trees; Nude; You And Whose Army; Karma Police; There There.