The first Radiohead concerts in the UK since 2012, and in London they chose to play three nights at the Roundhouse. It’s a great venue – maybe my favourite – but it only holds about 3,000. So fewer people will have got to see them (tonight’s the last one) than if there were one O2 Dome appearance, which is where they appeared last time.
So I was very lucky to be there!
So very lucky, because it was a magnificent gig, which featured the new album “A Moon Shaped Pool” heavily, but also paid tribute to pretty much all the albums that went before, except the very first, “Pablo Honey”, home of that one-off, proto-Radiohead hit, “Creep”.
As I said in my review of “A Moon Shaped Pool” the other day, Radiohead are the best band in the world right now, and tonight they confirmed that. There’s no-one else who can combine anthemic angst, beautiful, twisted ballads, leftfield electro and awesome rock power the way they do. It’s the result of a history of constant restlessness, an evolution of their sound which has sometimes felt like revolution. The biggest step change always seemed like the one from “OK Computer” to “Kid A”, which for a moment seemed to signal the end of guitars in the band who had made some of the great guitar anthems on “OK Computer” and its predecessor, “The Bends”. And yet, as we have passed through the initially obscure meanderings of “Amnesia” and especially “Hail to the Thief”, the perfection of “In Rainbows” and the angular electro and vulnerability of “The King of Limbs” it feels like “Kid A” was simply a bridge, a natural step.
Radiohead’s musical journey has been intriguing and exhilarating, and that is why their fans are quite happy to go a concert and hear it begin with five new songs on the trot. They know they are going to be good and that they will hear a few old favourites too. Radiohead respect their audience. They take it to new places, but they don’t disown the past. In fact they celebrate it big time.
And that is what we lucky few got on Thursday – and Friday, I know from other friends. With a similar core of new songs on both nights, but a hugely different array of earlier songs. The concert lasted two and a half an hours and 25 songs were played. On my night there were eight from the new album. The first five, as I said above, were from “A Moon Shaped Pool”. In fact the first five in sequence from that album. “Burn the Witch” was less jagged, but if anything, more urgent than on the album. A blistering opener, followed by the intense, cinematic beauty of “Daydreaming”. Right now I feel that this is one of the band’s very finest moments, one of the new songs destined to become an old favourite very quickly. “Decks Dark” continued that beautiful reflectiveness. I read in the Guardian/Observer review of “A Moon Shaped Pool”, by Kitty Empire, that the new album, at least lyrically, is Thom Yorke’s break-up album, after the ending of his relationship with his long term partner. That makes sense, but it’s never maudlin, just hauntingly lovely. Immersive music. “Desert Island Disk” is acoustic and introspective; and then…
The most striking song on the album, “Ful Stop”. That sense of paranoia and anxiety, those enveloping siren-like sounds over the urgent bass line, which I described in my review of the album, became truly dramatic as the blue lights flashed and the beats became overwhelming. In an evening of high points, I think it may have been the high point.
The dynamic had to change after that. We had the electro of “Lotus Flower”, a diversion into the B-sides with the sparse “Talk Show Host”, from “The Bends” era, and then, greeted like a long lost friend, “My Iron Lung” from “The Bends” itself. And my, did that rock! And really, the rest of the concert was just a fantastic journey through Radiohead’s back catalogue with a few more representations from the new, “Identikit” being a standout for me. Highlights for me were the last three in the main set – the lovely “Reckoner” from “In Rainbows”, the iconic duo from “Kid A”, “Idioteque” (featuring Thom’s dervish moves) and “Everything in its Right Place” – then a haunting “Nude” (with false start as one of Jonny’s machines wasn’t working) and a searing “Planet Telex” in the first encore; and last of all, the song we were probably all waiting for. “Paranoid Android” of course. What can you say about “Paranoid Android” other than the obvious? It was truly awesome and sent us all home elated.
That was my third Radiohead concert, and each one has felt like it was one of the greatest gigs I have ever seen. I do hope they return soon, and play some bigger venues so more people can see them – and I can again! Because I know it will be completely different, but just as good. Radiohead are the benchmark for excellence.
I’ve attached a link to the full setlist here. From the brilliant Setlist FM – they had this up within an hour of the concert finishing. Take a look at the 27 May set too. All sorts of other favourites like “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, “The National Anthem” “Pyramid Song”and “Karma Police”. But no “Paranoid Android”. Well you can’t have everything.
I’m very lucky that through ignoring this lot for years I now have a treasure trove of material to delve into (past ignorance can be bliss). The Bends suits my tastes as it’s so guitar based but I agree the new album sounds as strong as anything else (when listening to all this stuff from the same base line). If there was something lacking it was stagecraft as they are a bit short on the eye catching stage presence that normally goes with the “best band in the world” claims.
PS you didn’t mention your secret tears.
I don’t need clap your hands and pelvic thrusting from Radiohead – or anyone else for that matter. Radiohead are not a rock’n’roll band in any way. I guess they must have liked prog as youngsters, as well as Bowie and, no doubt, Joy Division. In their bigger gigs the lights have been pretty amazing. I guess they toned that down for the smaller venue. As I said to you – secretly – the tear was during Daydreaming and just the joy of being there.
Great, comprehensive piece, John, and one which squares with my reaction pretty much completely. (Those secret tears lost their secret pretty quickly with that email.)
A truly spectacular gig – brilliantly presented, stunningly professional, but deeply emotional too. All my greatest music idols keep on dying, damn them, but Thom Yorke is now right up there.
DC’s got there ahead of me. I kind of like the nerdiness and introversion of the band, but if Thom weren’t working his tail off, we could, more or less, be watching a bunch of holograms. Ed never moves, except when he does that thing on the floor; Colin always stands seven feet from Phil (though there seemed to be two Phils on Friday – was Colin confused?) And Jonny, of course, does the Jonny stuff, either dangling his lovely rug over the piano, or lying on the floor by his big stack of keyboards looking earnest.
I’m teasing, of course – these five men (plus one) are master musicians, and their remoteness in concert stems from an utter confidence that they all know what they are doing – always.
I absolutely love the fact that they are basically a school band who stuck together (for 31 years!), and did rather well. And it’s wonderful that, with just about every passing album, the music gets gets deeper and richer and more complex, but without ever losing its soul.
The fact that they don’t lark about, or do much smiling, seems rather trite by comparison.
See my reply to DC. They don’t do the traditional rock’n’roll stuff. How could you anyway, when most of your songs are about alienation? The bands that stick together often have roots in schooldays, and also seem to be very democratic even though they have distinctive frontmen. U2 are another example. I think they’ve always split the royalties evenly. I imagine Radiohead are the same.
Just been looking at Setlist again, and didn’t realise they had so much more stuff – like the performance history of every song played? Awesome nerd fodder. Make my spreadsheets look like a toddler’s doodlings.
Last night’s gig added Climbing Up the Walls, Like Spinning Plates, and (one verse of) Give Up the Ghost. As you said in your email the other day, a really rich and generous spread from well over twenty years of their oeuv ouev oerv of their music,
Damn those pesky French words! I’ve not explored the full wonders of Setlist FM. I fear our next gathering might be a bit dull for the non-aficionados.
Punk rock was also about alienation and a lot of those bands were electrifying visual performers.
I suppose though it’s a credit to Rhead that they have become massive without really trying on the performance front.
And they were quite lively on stage compared to Nils Frahm. Smiffy staying awake is a tribute of sorts.
Let us debate further over a foaming ale on Tuesday.
As we did!
You are definitely lucky to have been there!
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