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- Apollo, Manchester »
- Radiohead »
In a pub rammed full of seemingly well-adjusted 18-30 year-olds, a typically scally ticket tout stands psuedo-bartering with a Radiohead fan:
"I’ll give you £25 for it – face value"
"Nah, it’s alright"
"Right, £30, that’s the best I can do”
"No, I can get more for it, I’d want more like £50"_
The sportswear-clad young urbanite grimaces and strides off: _"I hope you’re stuck with it"_ he calls out by way of a parting gesture... The kid promptly sells it at face value to a fellow fan. It’s a Radiohead moment all over; perversely turning the derigeur on its head.
It’s that sort of event too; where touts utter the joyous line of "I’ll buy tickets, anyone got a spare ticket?"_ Willy Wonka-like pieces of paper to this event went seemingly to only the most ardent of Radiohead fans, and stayed that way (aside from the odd evil Ebay entrepreneur). Chances of spare tickets being available for this mini ‘club’ tour seem scant, what with it being the first chance for fans to hear material from the band’s sixth and feverishly anticipated new album ‘Hail To The Thief’.
Or that’s the theory. It seems from the off that the majority of the crowd are all too familiar with the band’s new songs already, going by the cheers that new songs is greeted with each one starts up with a menagerie of beats, bleeps and the occasional lush piano chord. All hail the internet revolution. You get the feeling that Thom Yorke and co. are fully aware of this; giving them the confidence boost (if needed) to make this set top-heavy with new tracks. Or perhaps the bloody-minded Oxfordians would have done so anyway. To love Radiohead these days is to be open minded; acceptance now comes before expectancy in this musically polygamous relationship.
Still, it doesn’t abate the sharp intake of breath at the sight of the five-piece hitting the stage for opener 'There There', and seeing three-fifths of the personnel steadily beating down on drums as the brain-shaking percussion of the new single takes hold. Unsurprisingly, the mood is one of celebration. Gradually, the band seem to relax into this safest of atmospheres, and after a riveting '2+2=5', an elegiac 'Lucky' and a swoonsome 'Morning Bell' sweep by, Thom Yorke appears at ease, cracking jokes and full of the self-effacing humour that seems a pre-requisite to being in one of the most celebrated bands in the world and still wanting to be viewed as a man of conviction and integrity (Or, if you will, the anti-Bono). No easy balancing act. But we’re amongst friends tonight, and no manner of slightly undernourished sound (Jonny’s guitar is less than lacerating all night, thanks to a distinct pallor in the too-quiet mix) can affect the ebullient mood.
Therefore, there are no apologies for the largely hits-free set, more a sense of head-nodding acclaim for the inclusion of songs like 'Kid A', which unfurls from the laptop experiment of its CD incarnation into something altogether more human live, with Thom Yorke’s vocals floating gently disembodied from the restrained noodling of his musical peers. Its not all b-sides and outtakes though; 'Paranoid Android' is suitably coruscating and angelic in turns, while 'Just' maintains the malevolence of concerts passed, undimmed by its nine-year existence. It is fitting though, that the biggest cheer of the night comes into the second encore with the unveiling of 'Talk Show Host', a song which has never even appeared on a Radiohead album. But, it’s that sort of night.
It is the final song of the evening which is the most heart-stopping, as Thom Yorke brittly serenades the audience with 'Fake Plastic Trees'; his hymn to all things fake, transient and desperate. The crowd’s silence as he wrings the last few notes from his guitar and unearthly voice is heartbreakingly poignant. It’s the rabbit-in-the-headlight bubbles like these that punctuate the set that make you realise why people scratch their heads and turn away from the band. Why, when a band can write these perfectly-formed, weightless paens to humanity, do they seem set to plough a lonely leftfield furrow forever more?
Though songs like the hymnal piano ballad 'Sail To The Moon' are equally as lovely (introduced wryly by the singer with the remark "this is a hopeful song, we’ve got loads of these, haven’t we boys?") they are still steeped in the abstract, non-committal lyricism that seems a deliberate attempt to detach themselves from the public as much verbally as musically. Sometimes it’s a relief to see the whites of Yorke’s eyes, musically speaking.
Seeing Radiohead in a (relatively) small room has never been a more bittersweet experience; the nearer they allowed us to get, the further away they seemed. Notably tonight, the band excluded crowd-favourite 'Karma Police' from their set. Perhaps Thom can’t bring himself to sing the line _"for a minute there/I lost myself"_ anymore. Perhaps he’s realised that he’s lost us for more than a minute, and the route back is growing steadily more distant. Can you hear us, major Thom?
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