Seattle Rock Orchestra’s take on The Bends and Kid A Saturday night could have been a disastrous experiment.
The sacred cow that is Radiohead being interpreted by an orchestra of 50+ combined with a 20-person choir, six-piece backing band and eight different vocalists playing the role of Thom Yorke seems like a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, to borrow a phrase from the Radiohead catalog, everything was in its right place at the Moore Theatre during the two-hour performance.
The formula for the evening involved the vocalists — Kaylee Cole, Rachel Flotard, Jon Auer, John Van Deusen, Michele Khazak, Noah Gunderson, Jim Antonio and Tom Beecham — each taking three-song chunks of tracks from either OK Computer or The Bends. There were several standout vocal deliveries and it seems unfair to single out specific vocalists because all did quite an admirable job, but the ones that stood out the most were Gunderson’s “Electioneering,” Cole’s “Paranoid Android,” Flotard’s “Street Spirit” and all three of Van Deusen’s songs. Khazak also made quite the impression by lending her bold vocals to “Lukcy” and “The Tourist.”
While it is easy to single out vocal performances the real star of the show was the orchestra itself. Gunderson’s spirited “Electioneering” would have been boring without the punched-up brass and Van Deusen’s admirable take on “Karama Police” wouldn’t have won me over if it wasn’t for the warm string section and its song-ending climax into a beautiful crashing crescendo. The orchestra made the experience seem like I was listening to songs I’ve heard hundreds of times with a set of fresh ears.
There weren’t many miscues or blemishes on the performance. Surprisingly the worst performance came during the encore, which saw Auer fronting the backing band sans orchestra for “Creep.” I couldn’t place exactly why it sounded a bit off while listening from the Moore’s steep balcony, but after I walked out I realized it was so offputting because it was the one song missing the orchestra. The song just fell flat after an evening filled with the theatre-spanning acoustics of an orchestra.
Radiohead definitely was the centerpiece of the evening but the real MVP of the show was bandleader and bassist Scott Teske and his team of composers who wrote orchestral arrangements for all of the songs from scratch since no orchestral arrangements previously existed. It was quite an undertaking and the SRO pulled it off unbelievable well. Hopefully there will be some sort of encore performance next year because the Seattle Rock Orchestra’s treatment of these songs deserve more than a one-off concert.