Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gig Review: Radiohead in a park

For a man whose lyrical preoccupation is alienation ("We don't have any real friends"), it is hardly surprising that Thom Yorke doesn't spend a great deal of time in communion with his fellow human beings. During two hours on stage with Radiohead in East London's Victoria Park he barely registers his longtime bandmates, while banter with the 40,000-strong audience is kept to the bare minimum.

But maybe this solitude is not a bad thing. Rather than mess around developing showmanship and 'patter', Yorke puts his head down and concentrates on the music.

And there is no doubt that Radiohead are one of the most accomplished rock bands on planet telex. Like a heavyweight musical wrestling team, they can grapple anything - be it the angular power chords of Airbag or the syncopated jerk-rock of 15 Step. Even when they teeter on the brink of scribbly electronic nonsense, the whole enterprise is rescued by Colin Greenwood's much under-rated bass riffs - some of which veer towards (dare I say it?) funk.

Nonetheless, it is the simpler, melodic tracks of In Rainbows that work the best in this set. Faust Arp is the transcendental lynchpin of the set, its falling acoustic arpeggio recalling the delicacy of the Beatles' Dear Prudence. Recalling their dawn performance on TV special Scotch Mist earlier this year, Yorke and Greenwood stand face to face to perform the track to an enraptured audience.

But without making eye contact, obviously.

Elsewhere, National Anthem has lost none of its grinding power, and Pyramid Song ushers in the dusk with menacing discord. Bizarrely, a Chinook helicopter flies over the stage just as the drums kick in. A mere coincidence? We may never know...

The night's setlist is largely drawn from the arty post-OK Computer era - including all but one of the tracks from last year's In Rainbows album - at the expense of crowd pleasers like Karma Police, The Bends or Paranoid Android. But when the group do venture deeper into their back catalogue, things go somewhat awry. Either through boredom or repetition, Just (to name one example) has acquired some unnecessary flourishes and vocal tics which rob the song of its elemental power.

But the audience - maybe the whitest gathering ever seen in Hackney - don't seem to mind. Dressed in a uniform of looks-second-hand-but-is-really-very-expensive-designer-corduroy and carefully messed-up facial hair (yes, even the girls), they bob their heads up and down in unified appreciation of the arty noodling.

At times, it looks like a convention of nodding dogs.

When the crowd finally remember they're at a rock concert and sing along to Planet Telex, Yorke (who is known for forgetting the words to this particular song) is suddenly moved to say something.

"Tonight I was fucking terrified," he admits, "so thank you for the good vibes".

You see? Even introverted, reluctant rock stars need a little of the human touch now and again.

Aw, diddums.

15 Step
All I Need
National Anthem
Pyramid Song
Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
The Gloaming
Dollars and Cents
Faust Arp
There There
Climbing Up The Walls
Everything In Its Right Place
How To Disappear Completely
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Bangers and Mash
Planet Telex
The Tourist
Cymbal Rush [Thom Yorke Solo at Piano]
You And Whose Army
Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box

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