Twelve songs into Radiohead’s 24-song set last night at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Thom Yorke, the band’s anxious, elfin leader, asked the audience, “Are you still there?”
It may not have been a rhetorical question.
During the sold-out first show of a two-month tour that will take the widely acclaimed band across the United States and into Mexico, Radiohead came across unprepared at best and listless at worst. Beset by languid material and an apparent lack of interest in building any momentum from one song to the next, the six-piece British act became something that once would have seemed unimaginable to its fans: Radiohead was a bore.
The band’s pacing was off from the beginning. Opening with “Bloom,” the leadoff track from its most recent and, not coincidentally, weakest album, last year’s “The King of Limbs,” Radiohead brought the show to its first grinding halt when it followed that downbeat, droning number with the even more soporific rarity “The Daily Mail.” Yorke, his dirty-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, slumped against a piano and moaned unintelligibly into his microphone. His bandmates hovered like specters around him during the show’s early portion, when they registered at all.
Even though Radiohead’s discography stretches back to 1993, the performance drew heavily from the band’s post-2000 work. The group ignored the music of its first two, and most commercial, albums, played the eight-song “The King of Limbs” in its entirety, and hopscotched among songs from “Kid A,” “Hail to the Thief” and “In Rainbows” — experimental, layered works that beg to be listened to on headphones and lose much in the transition to the arena stage.
If not for the high-tech stage design — roughly a dozen video screens rotated above the musicians’ heads, offering close-ups of their often-expressionless faces — and Yorke’s arrhythmic, squirrel-on-a-hot-stove dancing, there would have been little reason to look up from your smartphone. While appearing to have been produced by two, at times four, actual humans, the drumming was bloodless and mechanical. Likewise, the guitars were treated as ornaments, overwhelmed as they were by the garish display of technolike effects and bubbling keyboards.
And then, at exactly the show’s halfway point, Radiohead remembered that it used to be a rock band. Launching into the new album’s taut, thrumming “Lotus Flower,” the group came alive. Yorke’s dancing for once didn’t seem a contrivance, and the entire band — drummers Phil Selway and Clive Deamer, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, and bassist Colin Greenwood — locked into a groove and stayed with it all the way through the next number, the brawny and thrilling “There There,” from 2003’s “Hail to the Thief.”
The momentum didn’t last. Returning to “The King of Limbs” and its dopey, rave-ready “Feral,” the band limped to its first encore break of the night. When it returned a few moments later, it was only to once more tease the audience with a reminder — in the form of the invigorating “Airbag” and “Bodysnatchers” — of just how great this band used to be, before it settled into another morass of uninteresting beats and shapeless melodies.
The show ended with an inexcusably dull version of 1997’s “Karma Police.” This is perhaps the band’s sharpest, most fully realized song, but here it was presented as a cynical audience sing-along, intended to disguise the fact that Radiohead is not so much dismissive of its past as it is afraid it will never be able to repeat it.