Radiohead Dig Out the Big Guitars for a Haiti Relief Benefit at the Fonda

Click here to view Timothy Norris's slide show from last night's Radiohead show at the Fonda.

Can we give the bassist some? Please? Let's give the bassist some. His name is Colin Greenwood, and he's not either of the two Radiohead guys that most people, such as your mom, know. He's not the striking one up front with the lazy eye and the miracle voice. And he's not the floppy-haired lead guitarist -- his flashier brother, Jonny -- rolling out those sick post-Beefheart guitar lines.

4/5ths of Radiohead. That's Colin Greenwood, unsung hero of rock & roll, on the left
4/5ths of Radiohead. That's Colin Greenwood, unsung hero of rock & roll, on the left
Timothy Norris

It's the guy in the back standing close to the rig and staring at the floor, which is where his bass frequencies roll around like errant canonballs. Colin looks like he's pushing them with brain and finger power, so heavy-duty is his concentration. Bassists have no time for crowd-watching and that whole center-stage thing that singer Thom Yorke does. That takes up energy needed to make the groove on which singer Yorke flies, the trampoline beneath the singer's feet, Colin and drummer Phil Selway pushing him higher.

Thom Yorke, vocals
Thom Yorke, vocals
Timothy Norris

We're talking about Radiohead at the Fonda last night, by the way. They played a one-off benefit for international aid agency Oxfam International in Los Angeles, with proceeds going to the relief effort in Haiti. They made over a half million dollars, and played 24 monster epic jams and a few touching, ssshhhhh!-worthy ballads.

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How was it? You're asking a rock critic how was it? Terrible. Just awful. Whine whine whine. Rock rock rock. Whine some more. Rock some more. Touching piano part. Floating moan. Rock rock rock. Rock rock rock. Weird part. Rock rock rock. Piano melody. Voice. Big bombastic ending. And so on.

Duh. It was ... what's the word? .... great.

That out of the way, we're so glad that we didn't hate it, because hating something so aesthetically pleasing would signal some sort of hollowed-out soul situation. Still, there's a part that wished we could swim against the tide of Radiohead drool, because that makes for more interesting copy and would probably raise the hackles of a lot of fans.

But, shit, we can't not like them -- and most certainly not after last night's jumbo rock show (which was a benefit for Haiti relief funds), so thick and tangled was it with guitars bigger and more distorted than we're used to these days in Radiohead. We can't not get thrilled at the meandering melodies in "Fake Plastic Trees," from their second -- do or die -- album, The Bends. Roll yours eyes, metalheads and holier-than-thou rock snobs who don't do "soaring" and "floating," who need riffage minus the artsy stuff, who leaf through the collective writings of Thom Yorke and grunt at his overly elusive lyricism, his lack of focus, his meandering ways. Roll your eyes at their Britishness, their croons, their serious-as-a-dead-pet wallowing. But when a band so tight, surprising, professional, magical, steps onto a stage and gets to work, beauty arrives. We like beauty, especially when it's delivered with so much crazy rhythm.

The set list for the show, a benifit for Oxfam, is here. Most of you know these songs. What did they do different last night? Well, first, they weren't touring in support of a record, so they didn't concentrate on the new stuff. Rather, because this was a benefit for earthquake relief in Haiti and therefore special, they dipped into their catalog, 20 years in the making, to present surprise after glorious suprise.

Enter Colin Greenwood, bassist. On "Morning Bell," Thom Yorke sang like the dickens. He shot that voice out into the world like Cupid chasing Psyche, but it's that wobbly, weird, futuristic bass that turns a ballad into something way heavier. The band played "Morning Bell" hard and loud; guitarist Jonny Greenwood pushed through the song's snare-driven climax with a Johnny Ramone frenzy. (Before they began, Yorke, sitting at the piano, pushed Jonny into the center of the stage: "Grow," he said, "you can be a flower."); dapper rhythm guitarist Ed O'Brien was focused like a traffic cop making sure nobody ran into anything.

Radiohead Dig Out the Big Guitars for a Haiti Relief Benefit at the Fonda
Timothy Norris

We could go on an on. We could talk about the way the audience yowled with surprise during the opening of "Wolf at the Door," a signal that the band was digging deep into the catalog for this benefit. Or how, during "Nude," Thom Yorke, stretching his arms Liza-Minnelli-wide as he belted out the lyrics, looked like a creature performing a mysterious mating ritual as he delivered the most spine-tingling run of vocal notes we've ever heard.

Hell, you've gotta see this:

In fact, this is silly. Go here and listen to the whole show.

That out of the way, we'd like to offer the following image:

Radiohead Dig Out the Big Guitars for a Haiti Relief Benefit at the Fonda

Last night's show was a benefit for Oxfam. While we're were being thrilled in the comfort of a nice venue with a great band, a horror unimaginable by most of us is continuing to unfold in Haiti.


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