During a controversial time in Arizona, even when a friend cautioned the band about performing in the Valley, Radiohead turned in one of the most memorable live shows in its history, in Glendale, almost a decade ago.
The show on March 15, 2012, at Gila River Arena (then called Jobing.com Arena) marked the first time the English alternative superstars had played Arizona since July of 1995, and a lot had happened since then. Their 1995 album “The Bends” elevated the group to elite status, and led to subsequent back-to-back game-changing records in “OK Computer” in ’97 and “Kid A” in 2000. Musically their progression continued to transcend other contemporary bands, through today and certainly up to “The King of Limbs,” the album that earned five Grammy nominations and behind which they would tour North America in 2012.
Which brought them to the Valley and, specifically, to Glendale that spring.
Arizona was in the midst of political and economic controversy from its passage of SB 1070 in July of 2010. The new immigration law made international headlines with critics charging that it invited racial profiling of Latinos and others who may look or sound “foreign,” including many U.S. citizens who have lived in America their entire lives.
One study claimed that the state lost $140 million in convention business from companies boycotting Arizona in the wake of the new laws.
“We did this show in Phoenix,” Radiohead singer Thom Yorke recalled in a May 2013 appearance on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron,” in which he referenced the Glendale show and correspondence he’d had at the time with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. “I think because it was in Phoenix, and the big shows don’t happen a lot in Phoenix, Flea emailed me about it at the time saying people don’t really play Phoenix much at the moment because there’s a lot of heavy sh-- going on.”
Not knowing what to expect on a Thursday night in the desert, Radiohead took the stage at a jam-packed Glendale arena. The entire show was captured for posterity in a full-concert upload onto YouTube, with remarkably good sound and visual quality from multiple cameras.
The upload captures both the band’s fiery energy as well as the Valley crowd’s immersion into the moment, starting a 23-song set (including two encores) with “Bloom” and ending with “Paranoid Android.”
“I was at this show,” YouTube user Samanthan Duran posted under the video. “To say it was a spiritual life changing experience doesn’t seem like enough to describe what I felt. Hands down one of the greatest shows ever!”
The vibe definitely did not go unnoticed by Yorke, who had wondered how the concert would go off considering the negative buzz around the state at the time.
“But it was like — they all came out of the woodwork. That’s how it felt,” Yorke said of the crowd that night. “The stoners and the [electronic music fans], the old musos, and everybody was there in a big soup. And it kicked off, but through music, you know? And it was amazing, it was really, really amazing. You felt like you were just part of this gathering.”
Their tour that year took Radiohead through the festival circuit, including Coachella, where they would perform a blistering set to close out the California desert’s Saturday night a month later.
With the bright lights on their triumphant latest album and performances in other major cities and festivals that year, it’s that one in Glendale — the last night of that tour — that resonates with Radiohead concert collectors and aficionados, and even Yorke, who still references the show years later.
“I can’t describe it but the room starts changing shape,” he described of the Glendale concert. “There’s something in there. There’s something in that collective. You have 40,000 people in a room who all move into the same groove? There’s something pretty powerful. I don’t know what it is but there’s something weird going on, definitely.”
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