CaribouEdit this event
- The O2 Arena, London »
Ah, Radiohead: eight months ago we were all like: HOW DARE YOU CHARGE US £65 A TICKET. And tonight we’re all like: OH YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARDS, HERE, I’LL ADD TO THAT BY BUYING SEVERAL GROSTESQUELY OVERPRICED ROUNDS OF FLAT BECKS VIER FROM A MAN WITH A BECKS VIER BACKPACK.
The Oxford quintet (boosted to a six piece on this tour with the addition of an unintroduced second drummer who looks weirdly identical to Phil Selway) have been subject to such gargantuan levels of critical and fan approval, for so long, that it’s hard to find words to explain how good their current live show is without feeling like a self-parody. But it was good, and Radiohead’s label will probably stop sending me Adele records if I don’t write this up, so here goes.
I suppose for me the thing that confirmed that this was A Really Good Gig was how fresh everything felt: the pinsharp sound, ravishing stage set, astonishing musical accomplishment and Thom latest schtick (lots and lots of dancing, a ponytail that cannot be ignored, insistence on talking Cockney) were all nice, of course, but it’s the way they combined that made it. Live they are in their element, offering perfected, humanised versions of their slightly alienating music. And while I’ve seen them play gigs with more viscerally and helt, there was a pure beauty and freshness to this that got me again and again; for me this night was full of almost tangible flashbacks to special memories of these songs: waiting for the first play of ‘Paranoid Android’ on the Evening Session; listening to ‘Idioteque’ for the first time in a tent in a field new Newport; watching the ‘There There’ video in a stuffy basement flat in Vancouver; wandering around chilly Bristol listening to In Rainbows on repeat. It’s all familiar, but the songs feel like they are realising their maximum potential in this full spectrum, multimedia treatment and it’s like hearing everything for the first time.
The last time I saw Radiohead in an arena was 15 years ago, at the NEC, and as I recall (this was literally half my lifetime ago) what we got was essentially a very talented rock band playing OK Computer and The Bends with maybe a couple of Stanley Donwood cut outs for a set and a slightly lost DJ Shadow support (I don't think he had any visuals, and the house lights stayed up) was the only real hint that things were about to get glitchier.
Age and songs aside, what’s telling about this Radiohead is how they play the arena as an instrument as much as they do their, um, you know, instruments: the sound is perfect (‘Myxomatosis’, a song I’ve never really liked, sounds incredible, like somebody massaging your brain with a bomb), the lighting is perfect (LED screen finally coming into their own after being wasted during the open air In Rainbows tour), and screens to let people in the gods see the musicians are also the set, a series of mobile panels that glow and flicker, closing in for an intimate song and pulling away for the more grandiose moments.
It is the most technologically accomplished gig I’ve ever seen, and while it’s hard to imagine Radiohead aren’t taking a fair amount home from this, then clearly a large number of deservedly well paid crew are involved in a way that they won’t be when, say, the Vaccines play here in May (£30 a ticket) and clearly they are creaming off less pure profit than the Stones (£100+ a ticket). It is all so beautiful at the front that I’m surprised the next day when a friend at the back suggests it wasn’t the best paced setlist, in terms of mixing up old stuff and new at the right points. In hindsight he’s probably right, I guess: the song selection is entirely reasonable for a band on their eighth album, but there’s an uber glitchy early stretch that could probably have used a single or two.
But as I say, none of this occurs to me at the time and it's all righted by the second half of the main set, where four gorgeously rendered In Rainbows songs yield to a titanic renditions of ‘There There’ and ‘The National Anthem’, an entertainingly fucked up ‘Feral’ and a still semi-unexpected ‘Paranoid Android’.
Caribou play a lovely set before Radiohead, the cream of Andorra - clearly a better record than The King of Limbs – honed over three years of touring. And the gulf in class is simply yawning next to the headliners. Radiohead, are, ultimately, just incredibly good at what they do – other bands play arenas like a big version of a normal gig; Radiohead do something else.
Photo by Andy Sheppard
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