High above the Embarcadero stage on Monday night, Thom Yorke's eyeball was magnified, fragmented and broadcast on a series of irregularly shaped video screens. Peering through a palm-sized camera mounted on his piano, Yorke leaned in for full effect, contorting his elfin profile as he danced and boxed with himself.
For two nights, Radiohead determined reality, but you had to look through Yorke's dystopian kaleidoscope to see it.
The band was rarely stationary and often animated during their sold-out, two-night stand in San Diego. Unveiling nearly a dozen unreleased tracks during the course of their two shows, the band demonstrated (again) why their cryptic, anxious musical imagery has lifted them to a sustained career crescendo.
The Oxford natives plowed through 23 tracks amid an uncharacteristically humid Monday night, just as the sun finished its descent and a crescent moon rose over the yachts anchored nearby. Yorke rarely talked to the crowd during the two-hour set, except to announce bassist Colin Greenwood's birthday-prompting the audience to sing to him-and chide a few boaters ("You people in the boats. Did you pay up?").
The mixed crowd-think Casbah hipsters rubbing elbows with Viejas corporate guests-seemed relatively familiar with most of the band's new material. Most of the tracks were bootlegged from recent European shows and have been available online for a few weeks. That could've explained the crowd's heated fervor. But, really, the band is so universally coveted that they could've gotten a standing-O for playing turn-of-the-century polka standards.
After the memorable barrage of "There There" and "2+2=5," bassist Ed O'Brien handclapped his way into the beat-heavy ecstasy of newbie "15 Step." Jonny Greenwood's careful manipulation of electronics interlocked with Phil Selway's metronome drumming as Yorke lamented, "How come I end up where I started? How come I end up where I belong?"
The band fell into an evasive oblivion on "Videotape," and Yorke ended up in a quivering sadness toward the song's peak. Yorke also preached his quiet subtlety in older favorites like "How to Disappear Completely" on Monday and "Fake Plastic Trees" on Tuesday, during which the crowd fell worshipfully quiet.
Tuesday's 24-song set leaned on a few hits from OK Computer-"Airbag" threw the audience into a first-song fit and "Exit Music" induced the biggest sing-along-but it was the closer "Everything in the Right Place" that melted the younger crowd.
Both sets showcased the band's valued duality: electronic exploitation and guitar-heavy rock. So far, they don't want to choose one over the other. And for two nights in San Diego, the audience accepted the pensive Radiohead and the vibrant Radiohead with equally open arms and ears.