If there’s a common misconception of Radiohead it’s that their electronically sonic direction they’ve been heading in since Kid A has turned them miserable, whiney, pseudo-intellectual and inaccessible to their original fan base.
The band, heralding from Oxfordshire, made their name with two of the greatest alternative rock albums of all time, The Bends and OK Computer, both released in the heady 1990s when Tony Blair was in power and the concept of downloading a whole album via dial-up was scoff-worthy.
Their latest album, King of Limbs, was rid of the more conventional textures and tones adopted in 2007’s In Rainbows, and was obsessively filled instead with an array of sampling and programming, leaning towards glitchy electronica. They’ve reinvented themselves a number of times throughout their career, but for some this was a step towards inexcusable pretentiousness, and the album, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, was widely criticised.
They’re currently in a strange situation of their own volition. They vehemently refuse to pander to any form of commerciality, yet their widespread appeal means that they can sell out two of the biggest venues in the UK for three nights. The result was a holey set-list that inevitably will have disappointed many, but a performance that blew even more away.
“Hello, I’m Lady Gaga,” was Thom Yorke’s quipped introduction to the 20,000 fans in MEN arena this Saturday. His buoyancy caught many off-guard as he and his pony-tail energetically skulked around the stage, rubbishing any misconceptions that he’s a miserable high-brow musician with a constant chip on his shoulder. His demeanour was genuinely refreshing, and undoubtedly created a more receptive atmosphere from the unfathomably large crowd.
Countless songs were absent, including Karma Police, Just, High and Dry, My Iron Lung, 15 Step etc etc etc, (the list honestly does go on and on) and was unsurprisingly made up mostly from King of Limbs. If the songs may have sounded a bit tame in a recorded capacity, they came alive in such a remarkable way on stage, benefiting from incredible sound and visual set ups.
Songs that seemed to fly by on record, including Bloom, Feral and Separator, were all beefed up significantly on stage, transcended into almost epic soundscapes.
The stage set-up was awe-inspiring, both in terms of simplicity and impact. A dozen screens showing different camera angles of the band were suspended above the crowd, constantly shifting location and position. At times they faced out to the crowd, others they fell horizontally and ceiling-like, creating a faux-intimate feel in one of the most cavernous venues around. It was visually spectacular, with vivid colours and backdrops engulfing the audience but in a completely non-distracting fashion.
Of course, it’d be scandalous for at least some of the ol’ favourites to be ignored, especially with tickets prices being as steep as they were, and Paranoid Android and Planet Telex were given their own 21st century makeovers, somehow being made to sound even more colossal than they did all those years ago.
Anyone braving the treacherous roads around the MEN in order to revel in a night of Radiohead classics will have been desperately disappointed, but only the most deluded of fool would have been hoping for that. Instead Radiohead showed why they are one of the most important bands of this generation, able to dip and dive into their utterly vast back catalogue, constantly resurfacing with a song drenched in a totally different genre to the previous one.
There’s no way they’ll look back on previous successes, it’s simply not the ideology and mind-set of the band, and for that we can all be eternally grateful.