Christopher O'Riley

SXSW live shot

Christopher O'Riley

Elephant Room, Saturday, March 18

Following the wonderfully wild piano jazz of Katahdin's Edge, classical pianist Christopher O'Riley sat at the Elephant Room's grand piano and proceeded to play with three-handed intensity. Not a dusty classical piece, but rather one of the many Radiohead songs he's transcribed for the 88 keys on 2003's True Love Waits and '05's Hold Me to This. No doubt blasphemous to some Radiohead and classical fans, this undeterred ivory tickler has given the same treatment to Tears for Fears, George Harrison, Nick Drake, and in his newest, Home to Oblivion, Elliott Smith. Halfway through his dozen songs, O'Riley played "Not Half Right," a Smith tune dating back to the rocker's Heatmiser days. A break in counterpunctual energy, the notes dropped like autumn rain on loamy soil. The unreleased Radiohead cut "Lift" followed, demonstrating that O'Riley has an elastic sense of time for a classical musician – and power, with crescendos sending the Steinway into Bösendorfer concert grand territory. Being an emotive lot, Radiohead fans whooped at song intros, some sitting at the edge of the stage. Dancing with the one who brought him, O'Riley announced "the big closer," and launched into "Paranoid Android." His Radiohead realizations are much firmer than jazzer Brad Mehldau's, but at their best – a crystalline lattice of three and four parts – O'Riley's illuminates both composer and performer.

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