When putting on an event as large and nonstop as Coachella, technical difficulties are, albeit very annoying, inevitable and expected. When they happen during the performance of opening-night headliners Radiohead — one of the most dynamic, influential and prolific groups of the past several generations, an act my father was so determined to see for the first time that he told me he might start weeping when they play — it’s enough to make people furious. Had Radiohead handled the situation differently, Goldenvoice probably would be scrambling to figure out how to avoid giving thousands of people refunds right now.
Radiohead's Friday-night set kicked off with “Daydreaming,” one of the most haunting tracks from their latest critically acclaimed record, A Moon Shaped Pool. A galaxy of lights shot out above the crowd, bathing everyone in spots of crisp white. As the song inched forward, I mentally prepared to be taken to sonic paradise and was well on my trip, which made the major sound issues during their third song, “Ful Stop,” all the more jarring (and ironic, given the song title).
A testament to Radiohead’s importance to the global cultural catalog is that, even as the group’s sound cut out completely following feedback problems, the vast audience did not budge. A shout of “Who tripped over the cord?” came from the crowd as the group continued to give the show their all, blissfully unaware that only their in-ear monitors were still broadcasting any sound. Truth be told, watching Thom Yorke swing around in his wispy man bun while rocking out on the keyboard in total silence was both uncomfortable and very entertaining.
After playing through the song, they left the stage. My dad and everyone around me cycled from stressed to livid to verging on a tearful breakdown.
A few minutes later Radiohead were summoned to the stage again, and Yorke, who has a reputation of being eccentric, abstract and a tiny bit abrasive, addressed the crowd characteristically: “Fucking aliens again.” It was hilarious and a great reminder of what lovable weirdos they all are. They launched into OK Computer–era “Airbag,” which led to In Rainbows’ “15 Step,” which led to a whole slew of additional technical issues over the course of several songs. Finally, obviously frustrated, the band left the stage again, and this time it seemed certain they wouldn’t be coming back.
But Coachella gods willing, they returned. “Can you actually hear me now?” Yorke asked. “I’d like to tell you a joke, something to lighten the mood, but this is Radiohead so fuck it.” As Radiohead got back into their set, the tension of the many disruptions seemed to be redirected into the band's momentum. A sampler of their multi-decade-spanning discography followed, with King of Limbs’ “Bloom,” A Moon Shaped Pool's “Identikit” (2016), “Everything in Its Right Place” from Kid A and more tracks off Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows.
“Well, you know, funny thing happened on the way to the festival,” said Yorke, quickly adding, “No it didn’t. Fucking weird ... speaking of fucking weird …” With that, in came the opening riffs of the group’s immeasurably massive hit — and a song the band stopped performing for seven years before 2016 — “Creep." Suddenly the density of the crowd thickened as people rushed toward the stage, while others sat on the grass around the perimeter, weeping. Whether it was originally planned as part of their set or not, given the band’s past disdain for playing the song, it felt like a generous concession to a festival that had just screwed up their performance.
Despite all of the interruptions, Radiohead were as moving and monumental as they were on that stage exactly five years ago. They don’t seem to be slowing down, either — especially not for technical difficulties.
Set list below.
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2. Desert Island Disk
3. Ful Stop
5. 15 Step
6. The National Anthem
7. Let Down
8. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
11. Everything in Its Right Place
12. There, There
13. Weird Fishes/Arpeggio
14. Burn the Witch
18. No Surprises
19. Paranoid Android
21. Karma Police