I have never really understand the motivation of anyone apart from me to do anything. However, the attendance of the Radiohead concert by people who plainly did not want to be there confused me more that usual. It seemed that the section in which I was able to procure tickets mere seconds after 9AM that fateful weekday so many months ago was the same section in which all the ‘grown-ups’ decided to sit. Suffice to say rocking up minutes before the band took to the stage smelling suspicious and stumbling uncoordinated over their legs made the best impression on our neighbours. The man in front of us had seemingly every camera filter app available on his iPhone which he used to take the same blurry photo of a darkened concert hall lit only at the front by a band of Oxfordians for two straight hours. The corporate box behind us was more focussed on conversation and cheap Chardonnay than the cacophony of beauty , sound and light in front of us.
The lowlight must have been the middle aged couple who sat next of us for the first 13 songs then abruptly got up and left as Paranoid Android began, never to return. I was quite pleased to have the extra seats and am an advocate of people doing whatever the fuck they want, however $130 and a $7 boags down, I would have thought they could have stayed a bit longer.
To wit, it is probably time I began to describe the concert rather than just those around me and their behaviour. Radiohead is band I have been waiting to see for a very long time. Needless to say I had a certain degree of expectation I had taken considerable effort to dampen. So when I arrived I was it was with a weird sense of anti-climax.
The beginning of the concert was very much dominated by tracks from the latest offering from the most critically respected band still together: The King of Limbs. Mixamatosis, The Daily Mail and Bloom were all early highlights. The importance of the audiovisual to the band was clear; every track had a different feel thanks to moving hanging screens and ever-changing and colourful visuals. The general admission area, saved for those with the tenacity to camp out in the bitter cold, or those who got lucky with their broadband connection. They oscillated between heavily involved dancing and being gently mesmerized, often in the duration of the same song, such is Radiohead’s casual approach to time-signature.
Kid A and Weird Fishies/Arpeggi were some of my favourite tracks, both hauntingly disturbing, Thom’s soaring and wilting vocals filling the stadium with the waves of emotion and sensation. A new song Full Stop was catchy but but with the way Radiohead had been leaking tracks from their King of Limbs sessions, it was unsurprising they were able to pull out another new track. Following the always brilliant and thoroughly crowd-pleasing Paranoid Android the upbeat Body Snatchers finished the first half of the set on a hectic drum-rattling, guitar screeching high.
Thom returned alone and began to gently strum the opening notes of Exit Music For a Film, Almost whispering to the audience, he implored “breath, keep breathing.” Seeing this was something special, as this song had only been played a handful of times throughout the entire world tour. The special significance was appreciated by the captive audience who began to howl and heave their bodies as the song crescendoed with the return of the rest of the band and a manic display of guitar, synths and drums.
Thom Yorke introduced Planet Telex by saying ‘This is a wisened old song’ it is sometimes difficult to remember that the band put out their first studio album nearly 20 years ago. That they have managed to not only keep up with shifting musical styles but to consistently set the standard of progressive music is a testament to their sheer talent as a group. Needless to say the rendition of Telex sounded as well structured and prescient as always, reminding me again why I’ve loved this band for so many years.
Ending the second half of the set were the electronic stylings and synthisized reverberations of Idoteque; illustrating Radiohead’s ability to play two songs and completely different ends of the spectrum and maintain the audience’s complete adoration. Thom’s whimpered plea “Take the money and run” echoed in my head long after the band had left the stage.
The final encore was brilliant: the soft and subtle Give up the Ghost led perfectly into Reckoner, a long time crowd favourite from the adored and often under-rated In Rainbows. To end a deceptive tune on the piano introduced Everything in its Right Place which immediately had the crowd standing, and they weren’t able to find their seats again until long after the house lights had come on.
It was a rock and roll show without the crass arrogance, it was an indie gig without the pretense it was overwhelming and enveloping at the same time, involving the audience but still demonstrating the band’s brilliant and uncompromised creativity. I will admit it is difficult to justly review the gig from an unbiased standpoint and I have not. Such is the standing of Radiohead.