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.