Radiohead in Grant Park


August 2, 2001


At a time when the mass concert experience is synonymous with glitz and gloss, artifice and spectacle, tens of thousands of college-age music lovers filled Hutchinson Field in Grant Park on Wednesday to lose themselves in the hypnotic drones of a rock band that did nothing but play its instruments and play them well.

Some have compared Radiohead's success to Pink Floyd's unexpected breakthrough with "The Dark Side of the Moon" circa 1972. But the Floyd was always the best at what it did, while Radiohead's accomplishments have been surpassed by many of its peers.

Nevertheless, as Wednesday's show proved, this group of five friends that formed a decade ago at England's Oxford University has struck a chord with a very large audience that is willing to be challenged sonically and lyrically.

Performing on a stage refreshingly devoid of corporate logos, Radiohead benefited from a system that delivered pristine sound that could have rivaled the Chicago Theatre. Hutchinson Field proved to be the perfect setting for the group, and an excellent concert venue in general.

A key part of Radiohead's appeal was front man Thom Yorke. As usual, he looked like a demented elf with indigestion, and his voice could be charitably described as a plaintive whine. But fans applauded the way he serpentinely caressed the lyrics of disaffection and alienation in tunes such as "Morning Bell," "Idioteque" and "Knives Out."

Aside from a few "thank-you's" and a good line about the anti-auto anthem "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box"--"This is dedicated to the people of Esso [Oil], who have officially destroyed your president's brain"--Yorke eschewed stage patter, though he did crack a smile once or twice to let us know that he isn't always as tortured as he sounds.

Meanwhile, his bandmates created consistently intriguing if not always hook-filled backings. The MVPs: guitarist and sonic pervert Johnny Greenwood and machinelike but soulful drummer Phil Selway.

The quintet focused on its recent recordings and avoided its biggest hit, "Creep." But the huge crowd seemed thrilled with every note.