We’ve all experienced Radiohead in one way or another.
Whether your journey began with a brief reference to the band in a certain popular 90s film (“the maudlin music of the university station, waah waah waah.”), or through a need for an emotional outlet in a personal time of need (usually pre-teendom), we have all become aware of their dominating presence in the music industry over the past 27 years. Twenty-seven years. Just, let that number sink in. We can all recall the way we felt when we first heard ‘Creep’ on the radio, and proclaimed “Wow, this guy really gets my anguish”, or reading about the revolutionary method of record-selling the band appropriated for their 2007 release In Rainbows. Suffice to say, there’s a reason why Radiohead are much-loved and much-discussed by critics and fans alike.
I like to believe that my love for Radiohead is commonly shared among my generation. I saw the video for ‘Karma Police’ one autumn weekend early in my teenage years, had ‘Just’ on repeat on my Winamp (with personalised skin, yes) because I had quickly come to the conclusion that this song had the best outro a song has ever had in the history of songs, and, of course, had a massive fan girl crush on both Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.
Whilst submerged in the crowd of the O2 Arena on the eighth and ninth of October, I could sense that the individuals in my direct surroundings were experiencing the same sense of nostalgia as I was- people clung to their chests, belted out banshee-like wails, and attempted to dance as freely as Thom Yorke himself. Thing is, the O2 Arena fits a capacity of up to 20,000 people. That’s a lot of teenage anguish to fit in one building. Writing a review with a lens of reminiscing, a pastiche of the two nights is most appropriate. The two nights shared a similar setlist, and the differences were mostly evident in the band’s choice of pieces off 1995′s The Bends, 1997′s OK Computer, 2000′s Kid A, and 2001′s Amnesiac. It was during such tracks that a sing-a-long was acceptable (or rather, possible), and thousands of individuals suffered a moment of lapsed judgement, and screamed and jumped at the sound of the first few notes of a familiar riff.
Opening at both shows was Canadian group Caribou. This was a real treat, as the last time I had seen their show was in a tiny bar in Waterloo, Ontario. It is obvious how much this group, fronted by composer Daniel Victor Snaith, has evolved in the past years, with their popularity peaking as a result of 2010′s Swim, and the ever-successful club track ‘Odessa’. The energy Caribou emits in their show is outstanding. Opening for a band like Radiohead would no doubt be a daunting task, as evident in past openers I have seen which include Grizzly Bear, now playing to a massive audience at the O2 Academy, Brixton later this month, but largely ignored during their set for Radiohead at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre. However, Caribou’s light show was both commendable and captivating, and their sound and zeal filled the massive arena. Ending both night’s sets with ‘Odessa’, followed by ‘Sun’, two fan favourites, the performance no doubt demanded the respect of the audience.
Radiohead began both nights with ‘Lotus Flower’, the first single off their most recent album The King of Limbs- a meritorious choice. One can assume that every attendee was familiar with this track’s music video, which features an unsaturated Thom Yorke dancing in his idiosyncratic way, flaunting a hat, and, essentially, stealing the viewer’s soul with his gaze. Fans were captivated by the use of screens which hung suspended over the band and displayed each band member with a different visual effect for different songs. These screens would create different formations in between, or even during certain numbers, and it was this first track that introduced the crowd to this technology. Suffice to say, this vision, along with Yorke’s dancing style in the flesh, was simply awe-inspiring.
Another highlight of both evenings was the presence of ‘Daily Mail’ from 2011′s live video album The King of Limbs- From the Basement. I could sense the audience anticipation as a stand up piano was wheeled to the stage. Both nights, Yorke jokingly requested the piano, and made facetious gestures towards it once seated. A well-documented Yorke-ism of both evenings was his introduction to the track, jokingly addressing the publication as a “quality newspaper”, on one occasion resulting in a laughing-fit that forced him to restart the song. The entire arena then proceeded to make an ambient 180, a hush fell over the crowd, and the slow piano and vocal introduction to the track began, which morphed into a head-bashing call to arms, as Yorke demanded “where’s the truth, what’s the use?”. The tempo was kept at a high for the next song, ‘Myxomytosis’ off 2003′s Hail to the Thief (or The Gloaming)- although I was alone in attendance for both nights, during this song I felt like I had made some new friends to my left and right. This fast-paced track demanded some interesting movement, to say the least, but everyone was happy to oblige.
A bit of a jump forward, but the next highlight present on both occasions was ‘Nude’ off In Rainbows. This is the one that really broke me down on the first night. This song is an audio manifestation of a sense of loss, or “something missing”- that hole in the pit of your stomach, or in your heart. Cheesy, I know, but I stand by this statement. But the thing is, the juxtaposition of such torrid lyrics as “So don’t get any big ideas, they’re not going to happen” and “Now that you’ve found it, it’s gone, now that you feel it, you don’t” with the most beautiful harmonial looping I have ever heard, this performance was gut-wrenching. And Yorke’s ability to sustain that last lingering note is the perfect send off from this track.
This is the point where I must split the two nights, as on 8 October, the audience was treated to a classic, ‘Karma Police’. Where were you when you first heard this track? And when was the last time you listened to it? I was immediately taken back to Glastonbury 2011, during which I, entirely by chance, caught Radiohead’s surprise act. ‘Karma Police’ was played, the crowd belted out “for a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself”, essentially forcing Yorke back onstage to perform an acoustic reprise of the outro. I left the Park Stage to see another act, and returned only to find groups of people still singing these lines. Now, that is what I call an epic audience response, and the crowd at the O2 was no different. I would love to be able to put a number to how many times the attendees had heard that song collectively, can you imagine?
And this, my friends, is where the second show proved to be better than the first. Sorry, October 8 people, but it’s true, because tracks 11-16 killed it. ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, ‘Reckoner’, ‘There There’, ‘The National Anthem’, ‘Feral’ and, ladies and gentlemen, ‘Paranoid Android’. This is the perfect representation of the band’s evolution from pop-rock to experimental-electronic-pop-rock. Familiar and listenable melodies are ever-apparent in the likes of ‘There There’ and ‘Reckoner’, whilst ‘The National Anthem’ is reminiscent of experimental jazz, and ‘Feral’, oh boy, how do I explain? The older fans were definitely a little confused by this one, prompting Yorke to ask the audience ‘Are you lost yet?’. I don’t think this song has lyrics, but I was pleasantly surprised by its dance-ability, however unpredictable the rhythm. This is the perfect example of what Radiohead have become in recent years, as in, much less radio friendly, but if you give it a chance, and inevitably “get it”, the payoff is well worth the time and auditory challenge.
‘Paranoid Android’. I had heard this story once that at a festival show, during the emotionally-driven bridge to this track (“Rain down, rain down, come on rain down on me”) it had begun to rain. How’s that for pathetic fallacy? Having never heard this song live, and aware that they had played it recently in Manchester, my hopes were high. For me, this song is like Weezer’s ‘El Scorcho’- silly, untouchable, and never, ever played live. It is infamous for the process involved in creating it, as well as some pretty heavy influences, including The Beatles’ ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It is in moments like these that a band can really make-or-break their live show reputation, and Radiohead blew all our heads off, to put it lightly. When one is as familiar with a track as all of us were at the O2, every single vocal and instrumental quirk from the recorded version is so memorable. A band needs to know what changes can be made to their original recording to play on the audience’s memory whilst simultaneously surprising our ears with musical mastery yet unknown to us from their recorded discography. And, of course, Radiohead nailed it with this track.
To jump ahead, another moment worthy of a scream and perhaps a tear was the introduction to ‘Planet Telex’ from 1995′s The Bends, yet another classic to make an appearance on the ninth. Listen to this track, go on, put it on right now. Hear that? That is the sound of innocence and youth in Yorke’s voice. Angelic yet slightly churlish, this sound can surely be produced solely by an individual in their 20s, right? Wrong. The frontman summoned the ghost of his former pop-writing self and performed ‘Planet Telex’ like it was, well, 1995.
The final two reasons why their second night was most certainly better than their first was both ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ and ‘Idioteque’, performed as their third encore, as opposed to the two on the first night. Two more classics, resulting in a jubilant audience. It is from this comparative reaction in both myself and other attendees that I can come to one simple conclusion about the nature of music and memory; although Radiohead’s new work is more sophisticated and demanding, what we all wanted, in the end, was to relive whatever emotions we had experienced when these albums were first released. Which is weird because I’m pretty sure we were all weird, angsty teenagers. To quote ‘Planet Telex’, come on, people, “Why can’t you forget?”
Photo by Alexandra Politis10 October 2012 Leave a Comment