The moment that Taiwanese rock fans had been waiting for for the past seven months — one could even say for more than a decade — finally arrived on Wednesday, when Radiohead performed at the Taipei World Trade Center’s Nangang Exhibition Hall (台北世界貿易中心南港展覽館).
Thom Yorke and company did not disappoint on their first ever visit to Taiwan, putting on a two-and-a-half hour, 25-song concert that was relentlessly driven and intense.
Those who expected to hear a greatest hits reel from the 1990s were in for a rude surprise. The band did oblige the audience with a few classic tunes from Ok Computer and The Bends, but the show was mostly a showcase of the music of Radiohead today, where straight-up guitar rock has taken a backseat to an endless torrent of layered, syncopated beats, noise and electronica.
The evening started with a pair of songs from Radiohead’s latest album, King of Limbs. There was a welcoming roar from what felt like all 18,000 people in the audience as the band launched into Lotus Flower. Played live, the subtleties heard on the studio versions of these songs inevitably got lost. But the band made up for this by playing up visual and visceral elements in the show.
Yorke was constantly on the move throughout the concert, dancing, writhing, snaking his arms. At times he looked manic, but it was clear that he was happily losing himself in the groove. He bounced around the stage during Bloom, against a backdrop of cascading guitar riffs and a barrage of pounding rhythms played by three drummers.
The trippy, sci-fi vibe to Radiohead’s stage and lights show was perfectly suited to the music. A grid of video screens above the band flashed and flickered with simultaneous close-up shots of different band members on stage. Each song sported a different color scheme — The Gloaming, a techno-rock number from the 2003’s Hail To The Thief, riffed on a black and green backdrop, a la The Matrix. Identikit, a new song with a looping trip-hop beat and mournful melody, was performed in an aquatic blue setting.
Given the intricacies of Radiohead’s layered sound and considering that the cavernous Nangang Exhibition Center is far from an ideal venue, the sound was surprisingly good. This could be chalked up to the band’s well-prepared crew and a state-of-the art sound system. Yorke, whose singing was in top form that evening, cut through the fog of all the band’s noisy orchestration, at least from where I stood near the center of the exhibition hall.
Another point of appreciation of the evening was that you could literally feel the beats — the music would move your body, like it or not. During Kid A, the entire floor shook from the bass and drums, which pulsed underneath the velvety piano tones played by the band’s virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood. That’s something you’d never get from watching them on YouTube.
Despite the initial excitement, the band didn’t actually hit its stride until the sixth song, Morning Mr. Magpie. The six-piece band found itself locked perfectly into a groove during this guitar-driven number, and the response from the audience was electrifying.
The energy in the room had revved up a few notches, and again, I could feel the drum and bass notes reverberating in my chest and throat.
It’s hard to choose highlights from the show, as there were many. Karma Police elicited widespread cheers and the requisite sing-a-long. The dubstep-flavored Feral and the electro-funk of Little By Little were unsettling but exhilarating. After a loose second set of seven songs, the night ended on a hushed note with a beautiful rendition of Exit Music (for a film).