In a commanding two-hour, two-encore, tour-opening display in front of a sold-out crowd at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night, Radiohead offered a powerful reminder that they are one of this generation’s great rock ’n’ roll bands, performing at the height of their considerable skills.
Local fans may have needed the confirmation. The brooding British group’s most recent South Florida concert, a 2012 AAA show that opened a tour of music from the album “The King of Limbs,” was widely panned by even hardcore followers. Sun Sentinel reviewer Jake Cline found them “unprepared at best and listless at worst.”
Any lingering doubt about Radiohead’s vitality was quickly extinguished at Thursday night’s eclectic and energetic concert, the first of 11 U.S. performances, all of them sell-outs, in support of the band’s critically praised 2016 album “A Moon Shaped Pool.” The tour continues with European dates in June and July, ending July 19 in Tel Aviv.
On a spare stage stripped of high-tech flourishes (no twirling video screens over his head this time), singer Thom Yorke, in a simple black T-shirt and subtle man bun, was a nimble and engaging presence as he cut into old wounds in a crisp 24-song set filled with torment, exhilaration, love and loneliness.
A man of few words onstage — one woman near the stage cajoled a “You, too, darling” out of him — Yorke’s physical attitude was of a man in complete control and pleased to be there, offering not cynicism but humility.
Borrowing heavily from the albums “In Rainbows” and “OK Computer,” in addition to the obligatory “A Moon Shaped Pool,” the show called upon the members of Radiohead to change the mood using a variety of instruments — Yorke played electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, upright piano, a handheld keyboard, maracas and tambourine. Despite the stagehands’ frequent distribution of instruments between songs, the show kept up a brisk pace.
In front of a large oval screen (possibly moon shaped) that would transmit band videos and artful laser designs, Radiohead opened gently, with “Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk,” showcasing multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood’s radiant piano work, before slamming into a third song from the new album, “Full Stop,” a rocker featuring brother Colin Greenwood’s agile bass.
This set an exciting tone for the evening, with Yorke’s declarations of isolation and disillusionment revealed in streams of acoustic tenderness (his falsetto can still climb to the top shelf), but also in blasts of straight-ahead rock electricity (thanks to the tight rhythm of Colin Greenwood and drummer Philip Selway). There were moves like Jagger, and some like (Ed) Grimley.
The softer moments seemed to leave the rapt audience frozen in admiration, as with the ballad “Reckoner” and the Beatles-esque lullaby “No Surprises.” Similar respect greeted “All I Need” and “Videotape” (with Yorke on upright piano) from “In Rainbows,” the latter marred by a squeal of feedback. The unsung ballad “The Tourist” was alive with fresh melancholy, as was the poignant “How to Disappear Completely,” which inspired an impromptu field of phones to light up.
Perhaps the biggest applause of the night came with “Fake Plastic Trees,” which left the arena buzzing as much for the band’s decision to play one of their “hits” as for its soaring performance.
When it came to rocking hard, the band showed its true mettle on songs such as “Idioteque,” “Weird Fishes” and “Burn the Witch,” which found Jonny Greenwood trying to saw his guitar in half with a violin bow. On the final song of the night, Yorke strangled his guitar like a modern-day Hendrix on a scorching rendition of “Bodysnatchers,” which was most surprising for the mosh pit that did not break out.