Radiohead fought the machines at Coachella — and the machines won

Thom Yorke of Radiohead perform Friday night at Coachella.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Pop Music Critic

Of course it happened to a (relatively) old-fashioned rock band.

After hassle-free performances all day by dance and hip-hop acts whose music relies largely on programmed elements, Radiohead ran into serious trouble with Coachella’s sound system not long into its headlining set Friday night on the festival’s main stage.

The problems began during “Ful Stop,” from the British group’s recent “A Moon Shaped Pool” album, with the sound dropping out everywhere, it seemed, except for on the stage, where Radiohead continued to play, evidently unaware that anything had happened. The sound returned in time for the band to perform “15 Step,” then dropped out again, this time for most of the song.

Radiohead then left the stage, with frontman Thom Yorke visibly frustrated, but soon returned, with Yorke blaming “aliens” for the difficulties. But the equipment quickly failed again during “Let Down,” which prompted the band to split once more before coming back again.


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“Can you actually hear me now?” Yorke asked the crowd upon his second return. “I’d love to tell you a joke, lighten the mood, something like that. But this is Radiohead.” Then he added an unprintable phrase reminding us that lightening the mood isn’t in the band’s nature. A Coachella spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incident.

Indeed, though Yorke and his mates still believe in guitars and other hand-played instruments, the band’s music has for years been preoccupied by dark thoughts of technology — how it might all go wrong one day and turn against us.

In a funny way, then, it made sense that machines would spoil Radiohead’s big Coachella moment. Watching the musicians flail away without being heard was sad but also weirdly entrancing, precisely the type of episode Yorke might depict in a lyric.

So how was the rest of the show? Oh, it was fine: Radiohead played a couple more numbers from “A Moon Shaped Pool,” including a slightly slowed-down (and surprisingly sensual) “Burn the Witch,” and got the “Kid A” freaks in the crowd panting with “Idioteque” and “Everything in Its Right Place.”


But as a festival gig — or perhaps as a make-good following the technical difficulties — this was also a clear departure from the band’s current tour, with less new music and more oldies such as “No Surprises,” “Paranoid Android” and even “Creep,” its breakout hit from the early ’90s. And Radiohead never seems as enthused reliving past glories as it does looking to the future.

“This is what you’ll get when you mess with us,” Yorke sang to finish the performance with “Karma Police.” But the song felt deflated — the sound of submission, not defiance.

Twitter: @mikaelwood


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