Months after the official announcement in November 2008, Radiohead's highly-anticipated performance in Chile finally arrived on Thursday, March 26, when the musical pioneers came to play at Santiago’s Estadio Nacional.
radiohead1.jpg Photo courtesy Bao Nguyen
Some 50,000 excited fans raced towards the Ñuñoa venue, ignoring the merchandise sellers, choripan vendors and illegal ticket scalpers, then snuck a chug of beer or two before getting too close to the stadium's entrance. As I approached the arena, I could hear the '80s retro electronic sounds of support band Kraftwerk inside. The now aged German quartet stood in a line onstage in outdated, shiny black space suits, playing what looked like laptops. Though I giggled at the sight amidst a highly unamused crowd, I still found myself dancing to the catchy “Trans Europe Express.”
radiohead2.jpg Photo courtesy Jazmin Million
But where were the instruments? Where did the members of Kraftwerk go when they replaced themselves with robots? There was no one touching the computers, which made me suspect that they were miming their entire, rather dull 45-minute set.
Following Kraftwerk's exit to a dismal crowd response, the area quickly filled up for Radiohead, who started refreshingly right on time.
The five British band members took the stage to an enormous thundering cheer, opening with "15 Step," the first track of their magnificently received and most recent album In Rainbows. The crowd recognized the distorted high speed drum beats and immediately jumped and screamed. A few more beats in, the classic guitar chords from Jonny Greenwood rang out, followed by Thom Yorke’s finely tuned voice. Within just a few seconds, Radiohead had turned the arena’s atmosphere upside down and people’s hearts were racing.
Once the song finished, Yorke aggressively gestured to the sound technicians, then ran off while the other members were left awkwardly on stage. Bassist Ed O’Brien attempted to explain: "Hablas inglés? Sorry, we are having problems with the monitors. We are trying to fix them as quickly as possible." Luckily the Chilean audience was in high spirits, chanting "Radiohead" and "O-lay, o-lay o-lay o-lay!"
radiohead4.jpg Photo courtesy Peter Hutchins
After the seven embarrassing minutes of silence, Radiohead appeared very grateful for the Chilean response and powered on with the song "Airbag." Hands waved in the air and huge grins stretched across faces as the grungier, more guitar-based song played.
The two-and-a-half-hour show continued with a mix of songs spanning across all of their albums, successfully alternating between styles. The classic sound of British rock heavily resonated with "Just," along with a few greatest hits including the melodic sing-along "Karma Police" and the endlessly tempo-changing "Paranoid Android."
The enthusiastic fivesome sounded out their electronically textured songs, such as the organ chord based “Everything In Its Right Place” and the heavenly “Optimistic” from the album Kid A, which marked their stylistic change from previous albums. Yorke's unusually gritty vocals in “A Wolf At The Door” captivated the audience, along with Phil Selway’s technical drumming in “2+2=5,” both from the highly political Hail To The Thief.
The band appeared to be happy, sounding out more recent content, including the euphoric “Reckoner” and the impassioned “All I Need.” Yorke put on a remarkable performance of “You and Whose Army” as he played the piano while endearing the audience by singing wide-eyed and very closely into a camera, comically raising an eyebrow. Once he sang, "Come on, come on. You think you drive me crazy?" the result was not only the crowd hysterically laughing but Yorke himself also trying not to laugh.
radiohead5.jpg Photo courtesy Veronica Peña Sardiñas
The incredible light show kept the audience captivated, with multiple vertical LED lights hung long and narrow as the band’s backdrop. Depending on the song, they either flashed to the beat, had multiple colors flowing up and down or just twinkled like stars. During the heavily experimental songs "The Gloaming" and "Idioteque," these entrancing lights accentuated every change of rhythm and beat. Consequently, the passionate crowd danced joltingly along with Yorke like mesmerized maniacs.
After two encores, Radiohead returned once more to the ecstatic crowd to perform what everyone had been waiting for, "Creep." Bodies swayed, arms raised, some tears fell and Chilean-accented English bellowed out the words for what appeared to be the highlight of the concert for many.
While Radiohead was knocked back during the first half of the show by the seven-minute silence, the musicians rebounded, happy to play the crowd another 17 songs, with quicker instrument changeovers and saying the occasional crowd pleaser, "muchas gracias."
Despite the blip, the absence of beer (especially with the event sponsored by Cristal) and the tickets costing an extortionate CP$60,000 for the supposed "Golden Circle," I was left feeling overwhelmed by Radiohead’s performance. They are not just technically brilliant in their music but soulful. The musicians succeeded in performing 27 diverse songs from each of their eras to a worshiping and satisfied crowd.