Radiohead struck gold in America before being idolized by Britain's notoriously enthusiastic press, so the band was immediately suspect. The tune that put this Oxford, England-based group on the defensive was "Creep," a sullen, slacker-ific anthem that made Radiohead's puckish, tormented singer Thom Yorke look like Beck's "Loser" on 'round-the-clock suicide watch.
Friday at the Wiltern Theatre, Radiohead delivered the toughest kind of set a band can play--one designed to whet fans' appetites with new, unfamiliar songs from an upcoming album. (Yorke was even compelled to bring a music stand with lyric sheets onstage at one point.)
Hot-wired by a twitchy insolence that smacked of John Lydon, the singer made it clear that many listeners who believed that "Creep" elevated self-loathing to an art form missed Yorke's rambunctious, cynical humor. He lurched into impressive, operatic vocal gymnastics before delivering the words, "I wish I was special, you're so expletive special" while taunting the crowd with belligerent hand gestures. By doing so, he twisted the song's supposed theme of self-castigation into a bizarre indictment of his audience.
Yorke then closed the song with an emotionless deadpan: "Now ask yourself, were you convinced?" The crowd's reply would have been an embarrassed "Yes," but his question signaled that Yorke's heart is with his newly penned material.