Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
In an industry riddled with imitators and conformists, Radiohead has become one of the world's most respected rock bands by defying convention. While most groups court fame, the British quintet has aggressively avoided it. Tours are few and far between. The bulk of the band's songs are anything but radio-friendly and their albums arrive in stores according to the demands of five exacting musicians, not the marketplace.
We haven't heard anything new from Radiohead in three years, and now the fiercely independent band has embarked on a concert tour with no product to sell and a set list stuffed with never-heard material written for an album that won't be out until 2007. Perhaps most surprising is that after half a decade of techno-based adventures the group's new tunes sound remarkably settled. Counterintuitive as it seems, that's a stretch for this band.
I heard seven new songs before deadline required an early departure, and each of them was -- at least compared to the rest of the post-millennial Radiohead canon -- rooted in straightforward structures and moods. Guitar strings were plucked on ``Arpeggi" and ``Nude." Piano keys were stroked on ``Videotape." Songs began and ended without cracking open in the middle and spilling their guts, or falling off the edge of the earth. Across the board, the chaotic subtext and shifting dynamics of ``Kid A," ``Amnesiac," and (to a lesser extent) ``Hail to the Thief" were replaced with more modest arrangements and less toxic energy. One can only surmise that, barring major revisions, the forthcoming album will navigate a less tortured landscape than Radiohead has recently explored.
But the band covered all sorts of terrain Sunday night, beginning with ``There There," a wired, tribal chant that could barely contain the beast within. ``2+2=5," a sonic testament to bad math, came next, followed by hard, lilting ``Lucky." Then frontman Thom Yorke, who was uncharacteristically chatty and in visibly good spirits, announced that ``we're going to play some new songs, that's why we came out." The fans who filled the Pavilion ( last night's show sold out almost instantaneously, as well) received the unfamiliar material warmly, applauding wildly for ``Spooks," a rambunctious surf-guitar instrumental, and ``Bangers 'N Mash," a speedy rocker that featured Yorke bashing away on a tiny drum kit.
Drummer Phil Selway kept auditory hallucinations like ``Dollars & Cents," ``Paranoid Android," and ``The Gloaming" tethered to the planet, while guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood wrestled them back to the cosmic fringes. Yorke -- whose heavily electronic solo album ``The Eraser" is due out next month -- inhabited the murky space between: shaking something that must have been words out of his mouth during ``National
Martha's Vineyard singer-songwriter Willy Mason, whose star is rising fast in the United Kingdom, opened with a set of earthy, dreamy folk-pop.