Music Review

Fist-pumping alienation from Radiohead

Thom Yorke during Radiohead’s concert at TD Garden Saturday.
Ben Stas for The Boston Globe
Thom Yorke during Radiohead’s concert at TD Garden Saturday.

It was the Cars who sang, “Alienation is the craze,” but it’s Radiohead that has made it a mission statement. The band’s two generally-recognized masterworks — the 01-10 (that's one-two in binary) punch of “OK Computer” and “Kid A” — are concept albums of intense dislocation, and its catalog is peppered with lyrics like “This isn't happening/ I’m not here,” “For a minute there/ I lost myself”" and “Just ’cause you feel it/ Doesn't mean it’s there.” Even 1992’s “Creep,” the group’s splashy introductory single, presents its singer as someone incapable of the slightest bit of human connection.

But in cranking such things to the utmost, Radiohead has turned them hugely popular, enough to sell out TD Garden on two consecutive nights. At Saturday’s show, the audience enthusiastically cheered the first foreboding notes of songs, screamed at the decaying final notes of others, and whipped itself into a frenzy in the tension in between. Radiohead may have been trafficking in alienation, but it was fist-pumping alienation.

Part of it is surely due to longevity; the earliest songs the band played were old enough to drink. But the material from the most recent album, 2016’s “A Moon Shaped Pool,” had already sunk its hooks in deep. The acoustic guitar notes of the soft, unnerving “Desert Island Disk” dripped and fluttered, while “Ful Stop” was a muted, driving burble with whooshes and warped guitar pings. The main figure of “The Numbers” resolved to a major chord, but the minor chords that preceded it still hung ghost-like in the air. It was instantly anxious, and the song kept sinking with each pass.


As befits a band with a reputation for sonic precision, the sound in the Garden was probably as good as it’s ever been. Where most arena acts mix the drums for impact, Philip Selway was more insinuating, winding his way through the material with a variety of textures from the twitching “Myxomatosis” to the relentless grind “The National Anthem.” Jonny Greenwood's simple, ping-ponging guitar solo blew “There There” up into Technicolor without leaving his bandmates behind, and in “Optimistic,” he quietly played an ascending line followed by a fractured, glassine chord, both of which sat cleanly but unobtrusively amid the song’s coiled churn.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

That interconnected distinctiveness of each instrument paid dividends in “Bloom,” where three drummers — Selway, Greenwood, and tour percussionist Clive Deamer — all worked on different scales, resulting in a song that swirled like a head full of neon bees. A different band would have foregrounded Thom Yorke’s often otherworldly voice, all swoops and snarls even when he stomped around stage like Ed Grimley. But a quarter of a century on, the only five men who have ever been Radiohead know how to put everything in its right place.


With Junun

At TD Garden, Saturday

Marc Hirsh can be reached at official