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Coachella 2012: Radiohead headlines, fans worship at altar

April 15, 2012 |  1:18 pm

Radiohead

At this point the praises and raves for the Oxford, England, band Radiohead are so plentiful that to write another one seems pointless: Superb art rock quintet arrives once again to Coachella in its second appearance (2004), makes a lot of people cry on the main stage by filling the Empire Polo Field with music of melodic beauty and primal rhythmic energy, and rock critic pens love letter.

Having hired the best sound technicians, an expert stage designer (Andi Watson, who's pushing forward the very nature of outdoor concert aesthetics with each new project), keen management and a PR machine that teases each special moment, Radiohead has captured its population, and understands how to move them. Now they just have to keep doing that. And aside from doing something mind-bafflingly misguided like collaborating with Scott Stapp or Lady Gaga, Radiohead seems like it could keep doing this for a long time.

Mostly I'm talking about the magnificence of the band's presentation, which over the course of two hours turned a darkened dozen acres into a place to worship at the altar of a five-story glowing canvas of images and abstractions. These images strobed and pumped through "The Gloaming," shifting with each bent Jonny Greenwood guitar line, drawing close to singer Thom Yorke as he pushed a falsetto.

COACHELLA 2012 | Full coverage

On "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," from the band's "In Rainbows" album from 2007, a screen of vertical light bars created what looked like an illuminated waterfall while on a dozen video screens fluttered images of the band: percussionist Phil Selway dotting out complicated beats that spiraled in and out of themselves and Ed O'Brien building momentum, and bassist Colin Greenwood building a dubby foundation.

Beneath this beauty stood the band, barely visible to most fans dancing below remote sound systems five football fields away and watching 18 massive flat screens showing close-up images of Yorke and others lost in song. On the gentle new piece "The Daily Mail," it didn't seem to matter that most couldn't actually see Yorke singing from out in the sticks, that you couldn't see his eyes scrunched with emotion.

Other acts over the course of the festival made sure that at least one of the big screens provided more direct documentation of what was happening onstage so as to capture the musicians at work. But that's not this band. On Saturday, they were interested in something grand, which is what they delivered.

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-- Randall Roberts

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Photo: Radiohead shines under its brilliantly designed and utilized stage show, headlining the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday night. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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