RADIOHEAD with the BETA BAND and KID KOALA at Molson Park (Barrie), August 3. Tickets: $45. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNNN
the beta band may have bounced back from their album flop, but they're still no hotshots when it comes to entertaining a stadium-sized crowd. Granted, after enduring the gruelling trek up to Barrie amidst the caravan of civic holiday cottagers, the rabid fans at Molson Park had little time for any group not fronted by Thom Yorke. But you'd think the Betas would have gone for an A for effort.
Instead, there was frontman Steve Mason -- clad in a bizarre black caftan that looked like something Bea Arthur wore in Golden Girls -- apologizing for having to barrel through the short set, saying, "We're a bit late 'cause we were in the toilet. Sorry, no jokes between songs -- just bam-bam-bam!"
The lads were clearly having a lark hopping from instrument to instrument, often within a single song, and chatting with one another while ambling casually across the massive stage. They held the crowd's attention about as well as did the canned 50s music between acts.
The Beta boys could learn a thing or two about working a crowd from their world-weary tourmates.
As black lights cast an eerie glow over the silver stage, Thom Yorke's wailing on opener The National Anthem established the intensely dramatic atmosphere that held the ecstatic crowd in thrall throughout Radiohead's epic set.
Their two latest releases have been met with equal amounts of praise and skepticism. Critics condemn Kid A and Amnesiac as pretentious self-indulgence, while converts laud the band's ingenuity and artistic maturation. But there's no question that Radiohead puts on one of the best damn rawk concerts in the business.
Older tracks like the melancholy Exit Music For A Film and a vicious, guitar-heavy version of My Iron Lung lit up the audience, who waved their lighters and crowd-surfed like it was 1992.
While they're difficult and often meandering on the albums, Morning Bell and Idiotheque, with their skittering breakbeats and claustrophobic layers of sound, were much more polished live. Meanwhile, anti-celeb Yorke danced frenetically like a jumping jack and mugged for the cameras that fed to massive stage-side screens.
Two hours and three encores later, the energy still sizzled through Molson Park. The kids trickled back to their cars pumped, happy and secure in the knowledge that Radiohead still rocks.