It wasn’t eight nights at Staples Center, but for many Radiohead fans the British art-rock band’s visit to the Shrine Auditorium felt like as big a deal as Adele’s much-discussed takeover of the downtown arena.
Part of a brief North American tour built around performances at festivals including Lollapalooza and Outside Lands, Radiohead’s two sold-out shows next to the USC campus marked the group’s first concerts in Southern California since it headlined Coachella in 2012. And inside the Shrine on Monday night, at the second of those gigs, you could sense the anticipation that had built up over the last four years.
“Here we goooooo!” cried one excited dude behind me as the lights dimmed at about 9:45. Here are five thoughts on what happened next.
1. Radiohead is on the road behind “A Moon Shaped Pool,” its ninth studio album, which came out with little advance warning in May. And the band is clearly proud of the music: Monday’s show, like most on the tour, opened with the first five songs from the album, played in order.
“Burn the Witch” had frontman Thom Yorke moaning about “a low-flying panic attack” over harsh, scrubbing guitars, and “Daydreaming” found multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood hunched over a piano like Geoffrey Rush in “Shine.” Yet with their mellow folk-pop textures, “Decks Dark” and “Desert Island Disk” were strangely placid — a temporary reprieve from Radiohead’s typical unease before Yorke grabbed a small keyboard and started jackhammering across the stage during “Ful Stop.”
2. Following that burst of new stuff, the band reached back to 1995’s “The Bends” album for “My Iron Lung,” which triggered a huge cheer from the audience. Radiohead fans may be more attentive than those of many groups, but these folks were still eager to hear tunes they knew by heart.
And from that point on Yorke and his mates supplied plenty of them: a clammy but sensual “Pyramid Song”; “Everything in Its Right Place,” with Greenwood and guitarist Ed O’Brien crouched down, fiddling with God knows what kind of gear; a pretty then slashing “Paranoid Android” that reminded you how much fresh energy Radiohead once brought to the diminished idea of guitar rock. Yorke also sang a mesmerizing rendition of “True Love Waits,” a live fan favorite for years before the group finally recorded it for “A Moon Shaped Pool.”
3. To help adapt its elaborate studio productions to the stage, Radiohead is touring with a sixth member in drummer Clive Deamer. But Deamer wasn’t the only extra guy making the music happen Monday: Radiohead also had a diligent road crew zipping into view between every song, changing out instruments and adjusting others so that the band had an almost entirely new palette available for each selection. Too bad Cameron Crowe’s corny, cartoonish “Roadies” isn’t about these impressive fellows.
4. Can we talk about Thom Yorke, paternal sex symbol? Once a gawky twentysomething with an iffy stylist’s-apprentice haircut, Radiohead’s 47-year-old singer has aged into a serious dad-rock icon. Skinny jeans? Check. Salt-and-pepper beard? For sure. Man bun? Oh yes. On Monday he even wore a deep-V T-shirt that suggested he had an appointment after the show to audition for some new CW series.
5. At one point in the band’s first Shrine show, Yorke — no stranger to left-leaning political statements — made what appeared to be a reference to Donald Trump when he said, “I’ve got a great idea: Let’s put an unhinged, paranoid megalomaniac in charge.”
The singer didn’t address the coming election explicitly Monday, but if he fears Trump is headed for victory, perhaps he felt his music had already said enough: Unlike the earlier concert, this one included Radiohead’s George W. Bush-era “2 + 2 = 5,” in which Yorke sings, “Hail to the thief.”