Radiohead / Junun Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON, July 19

Radiohead / Junun Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON, July 19
Photo: Stephen McGill
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Any Radiohead appearance is sure to be hotly anticipated, but this one held particular gravity for Toronto fans. Rather than the usual hype-fuelled press cycle, much of the talk surrounding this show concerned the 2012 stage collapse in Downsview Park ahead of their last scheduled appearance here, which caused the death of drum tech Scott Johnson and led to a subsequent protracted court battle. In recent days, the band have been in the press expressing disgust that no one has been held properly responsible for the incident.
 
After so much build-up, Radiohead's long-awaited return to Toronto was actually a fairly standard, albeit very good, arena show. They played masterfully, leaving no doubt that they're one of the definitive bands of their generation — although the night fell a little short of transcendent.
 
The evening began with Junun, the side project of Radiohead's own Jonny Greenwood. It was a little difficult to know quite what to make of the ensemble's traditional Israeli and Indian music, which had groove but failed to garner much of a reaction from crowd members who were filtering in and lining up for beers. The clattering rhythms and caterwauling horns could have been uplifting in the right context, but an indifferent arena wasn't it.
 
Everyone was paying rapt attention by the time the headliners took the stage, beginning with the brooding piano ballad "Daydreaming." This atmospheric mood piece began the performance on a strangely downcast note, but this set the tone for an unpredictable set list that careened wildly between styles and eras.
 
Whether Radiohead were cranking up the fuzz for "Bodysnatchers," dancing their way through the electronic sputters of "The Gloaming," or playing with gentle elegance on "No Surprises," everything was impeccable and no sounds were off the table. The core five-piece played alongside auxiliary drummer Clive Deamer, who helped to give songs like "Videotape" and "Myxomatosis" an extra syncopated complexity.
 
And yet, the night never quite reached the sublime bliss that Radiohead shows are often known for. There were glimmers of it: guitar Ed O'Brien brilliantly recreated the symphonic swells of "The Numbers" with blasts of fuzz, and "Everything in its Right Place" was transformed into a throbbing electro banger. But for the most part, this was simply an excellent band playing their songs with little ceremony or spectacle. The repetitive visuals, mostly consisting of overlaid live shots of the band members, did very little to add to the mood.
 
Before the final song in the second of two encores, frontman Thom Yorke finally addressed the elephant in the room, as he acknowledged the tragic stage collapse and scathingly added "The people who should be held accountable are not being held accountable. The silence is fucking deafening."
 
The band then held an intensely uncomfortable minute of silence for Scott Johnson; it was an appropriate tribute on Radiohead's behalf, but the mixture of drunken hollering followed by loud shushing from the crowd was cringe-worthy.
 
Given the lack of a court decision following the stage collapse, the choice to close the night with "Karma Police" was deeply ironic, and the line "arrest this man" had extra weight. The whole thing ended with an enormous unplugged sing-along of "I lost myself" — so even though the night was largely missing moments of communal revelry, at least we got it in the final seconds.
 
 

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