Concert Reviews

Radiohead at the Scotiabank Arena

Photos by Sean Chin.

The first time I saw Radiohead was back in 2012 at Bonnaroo, my first camping festival and first out of province concert. I went with my friends Jimere, Jaymi and Aaron and at the time, other than kind of liking In Rainbows their 2007 album I didn’t know much else by them. Their show blew me away despite not knowing many of the songs played and began my love affair of them becoming my favourite band. A mere eight days later the band was to play in Toronto, everyone and their mother seemed to have tickets for this Downsview Park show. This was during NXNE and that night The Flaming Lips were playing a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square and I went with my girlfriend to our first ever concert together. Not long after being downtown word spread about the infamous stage collapse and the death of the bands drum technician Scott Johnson. In a touching tribute The Flaming Lips played Knives Out from 2001’s Amnesiac.  With the ensuing legal battle that just kept passing the blame around I assumed I would most likely never see Radiohead perform again unless it was at a festival outside of Ontario. In 2016 they were booked to headline Osheaga and I was fortunate enough to see them, this time against the railing with friends Katrina, Jaxson and Ariana. It was a life changing show, one I rank as one the greatest ever for me. By this time I was a massive fan and had fully explored their back catalog. By the time the encore came around and they played Creep (a song that had only recently re-entered their setlists after a seven year hiatus) I began to cry. Once again I figured that would be the last time I ever got to see the band play. When earlier this year two Toronto shows were announced it was bewildering, how could it be since even though the court cases had unceremoniously died out there was no true culprit with the construction/scaffolding company pointing fingers at the promoter and vice versa while the government of Ontario trying to slink away unnoticed in all this mess. The band was very vocal in wanting justice served for Johnson and his preventable death and it looked like they might be punishing Toronto fans to prove their point. Instead we were rewarded with a double dose of them and somehow I managed to be able to see them again on night one. 

As they band walked out on stage a giant egg shaped screen fell behind them with their tall shadows cast upon it just like their careers have over the indie music scene. With their debut album Pablo Honey coming out in 1993 they have consistently been one of the most revered and sought after musical guests, instantly making them the number one festival act in the world. They have dabbled in rock, electronic, jazz, folk, psychedelic music and everything in between. Their latest album A Moon Shaped Pool came out in 2016 and while the tour was technically in support of it, they didn’t play it like a traditional promo tour. The set did start off with Daydreaming from that record as the dreary and otherworldly song before following it up with Ful Stop. The egg screen lit up like a brain having a million synapsis, mimicking what the audience was going through while watching the show. While they did play two more tracks from that record later on it was their way of getting business out of the way first.

Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke has never shied away from being vocal about their disdain for their massive singles like Creep, and instead of interspersing a few singles throughout the show it was essentially the no-hits night save a few exceptions, even if some songs might seem like hits to Radiohead fans but are actually just fan favourites. A piano and stool was very quickly rolled out for Yorke to sit down and play Morning Bell from 2000’s era defining Kid A. While I was sitting in the 100’s section, Sean Chin, Editor in Chief and the creator of this site was photographing the band. He sent me this quote about the origins of our site:

“I’ve had the privilege of seeing my favourite musicians Radiohead three times at this point. My first time was during the In Rainbows tour at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, then again at Osheaga. All were special moments I’ll never forget. However our team has never been formally approved until this event at the Scotiabank Arena.  It’s been almost 10 years in the making now. And I feel as if things came full circle. When naming this website, then a solo blog, I never thought of what if could be today. I wanted a unique name. One of Radiohead’s songs that was really obscure and has always stood out to me was “In Limbo” off their album Kid A. I added the “Live” part as I wanted to be in the action of the concerts I attended. And that’s how it all began.”

At the start of All I Need, Yorke stood on the edge of the stage looking over the large crowd standing on the floor as they cheered wildly the return of the band and he seemed to enjoy taking it all in. As the beat kicked in he started grooving along to the beat in his own unique style of dancing (best seen in their music video for Lotus Flower).

The show featured tracks from eight of their nine albums (with only Pablo Honey not being represented) but In Rainbows got the most love on night one with five tracks being the most from any album played.  For Videotape, a song not regularly played, it looked like rain was being sucked up, moving in reverse as the band was cleansing the crowd by removing the clouds above our lives. Drummer Philip Selway and percussionist Clive Deamer banged out matching drumbeats that sounded like a slow march, while guitarist/multi instrumentalist Johnny Greenwood played the glockenspiel like beat on a synthesizer. Afterwards on The Gloaming the rain came back down to earth as the band could not hold it off for ever, this time in green glitchy streaks like they were in The Matrix as Yorke jumped around on stage screeching the chorus. 

With the opening notes to Airbag, the first track off of OK Computer, the bands landmark breakthrough album from 1997, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. Johnny Greenwood convulsed playing the famous shriek from the guitar solo throwing everything into the performance as Deamer methodically played sleigh bells the entire song. Finally at the end of the song the band acknowledged the crowd with Yorke saying a simple “thank you” after nine songs. 

Other fun highlights include Johnny Greenwood playing snare drums will sitting on the floor of the stage during Bloom from The King of Limbs, while his brother Colin Greenwood fell to his knees playing guitar and Johnny did full arm wings to rip out the notes during Bodysnatchers. The biggest cheers of the night seemed to come from Weird Fishes/Arpeggi being played. The show concluded with a staple, Street Spirit (Fade Out) from 1995’s The Bends ending with another simple thank you from Yorke.

The encore started with 2+2=5 a famous ode to George Orwell from Hail to the Thief with Yorke getting the crowd to yell and cheer during the song to make as much noise as possible. Nude featured possibly the best vocals of the night as Yorke’s soaring voice hit all the high notes. As previously mentioned Yorke’s dancing to Lotus Flower is always something to behold, and he didn’t disappoint playing maracas as the bass lines from Ed O’Brien hit deep. 

The band has been doing two encores this tour and came out after a very short break to play Everything in It’s Right Place a Kid A highlight and defining track for the band. The audience clapped along in a syncopated beat making the song very hypnotic. Idioteque could have been a rave banger with how intense the beat was complete with bright white strobe lights flashing over the crowd. After that song Yorke finally spoke at length, mentioning directly the stage collapse incident from 2012 “Six years ago, we wanted to do a show in Toronto. The stage collapsed, killing one of our colleagues and friends. The people, who should be held accountable, are not being held accountable. In your city. The silence is fucking deafening.” The anger and sadness from him was palpable with the audience both clapping for him saying that and booing at the frustration that everyone involved is dealing with. All six band members stood up facing the audience and Yorke shushed the crowd with the massive room becoming dead quiet for a moment of silence. There were some fans that couldn’t keep their mouths shut during this time shouting I love you’s and the like, but the poignancy of the moment remained. 

Fittingly enough after the tribute the band launched into Karma Police, possibly the most radio-friendly song of the night as the band would play quietly during the chorus allowing the crowd to sing very loudly while the house lights would rise up. Yorke finished the song alone on acoustic guitar slowly bringing us back down to earth.

The show was epic beyond all proportions and a better return to the city could not have been scripted. On the second night in Toronto they only repeated five songs meaning 47 unique songs were played over both nights, an entirely impressive feat. Considering I knew plenty of people attending both notes, they more than got their money’s worth with night two featuring a ton of tracks from OK Computer and Kid A. Once again I am left feeling like I may never see the band again and once again if that is in the cards so be it. I have seen them three times in three wildly different settings and I am content. That said I would never turn up a chance to see my favourite band a fourth time.  

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.