After staying up to 2am watching the BBC coverage of Glastonbury, and then getting up quite early to watch the Lions lose to the All Blacks, I’ve been having a lazy Saturday. Amongst other things, playing Radiohead and reflecting on the concert on the Pyramid Stage last night. For me, it was a triumph, a journey through the back catalogue, with an emphasis on “OK Computer”, which was released 20 years ago. 20 years ago! But there was a sense from when the cameras panned onto the crowd, and from all the usual nonsense on social media, that a lot of people weren’t all that impressed.
Why was that? Well, really, because it’s Radiohead. In my view the best band in the world, and the most original and innovative over the past, say, twenty years. But if you don’t get them, they are not always an easy listen. Not since “OK Computer” really. Because that was followed by “Kid A” and that changed everything. The moment when the guitars lost their dominance, replaced by all manner of electronic bumps and squeaks. I guess that was the problem for the uncommitted in the Glastonbury audience: there were guitars, but not always as they would wish to hear them – building up to an anthemic, singable chorus. (This is why Coldplay are the ultimate modern Glastonbury headliners).
The two hour show was a greatest hits show – for the Radiohead aficionado. I mean, for me it was close to perfect. All those “OK Computer” songs (7 of them) and most of the best Radiohead songs since then, like “Pyramid Song”, “Everything in its Right Place”, “Idioteque” , “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Nude”. And songs like “Mxyomatosis” and “Bloom” are now regarded as Radiohead essentials too. And we had maybe my two favourite songs from “The Bends” – “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, and my best two from the new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, namely “Daydreamer” (which opened proceedings) and “Ful Stop”. So no complaints from me!
But I could sense that restlessness when the band probed the more obscure and discordant reaches of their incredible back story. As they are entitled to do and will always do. Radiohead have never pandered to the obvious, and that is one of the things their followers love. At last year’s amazing Roundhouse shows, they kicked off with five straight songs from the new album. Each was greeted as an old favourite. Not many bands of long standing could do that.
But even Radiohead will give an audience a bit of what they need, and we got “Paranoid Android”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Creep” (now fully rehabilitated) and, finally, “Karma Police” at the end. Oh, and “Lotus Flower” too, just to show that Radiohead do what they want. I was begging the TV at the end that the show would finish with “Karma Police” – they couldn’t possibly leave it out, could they? No, of course not. And the crowd lost itself and kept singing that chorus for some time after the band had left the stage.
There will be a lot of debate about where this Radiohead set ranks amongst the great Glastonbury sets. I’d have it pretty high, and one which will rise in the rankings with the passage of time, I suggest.
Others may disagree!
(By the way, if you’d like to see my take on the whole Radiohead back catalogue, other than the most recent album, my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey” has 16 pages on the band. Available on Amazon and Kindle).