One moment, after ‘The Gloaming’, with all-new overlaid vocals: ‘just to make it even weirder’ said a pop kid to my right. The song was met with near universal bemusement, but was followed by ‘Just’, to near universal delirium. At least they were mixing things up with some crowd pleasers. It felt flat. In the past I’ve accused Radiohead of not actually moving on from OK Computer, or even The Bends. The songs on Amnesiac were still about the same things after all, said in pretty much the same way I would argue. But when the plodding, obvious, intro to ‘Just’ kicked in, I felt so very wrong. They have moved very far indeed.
Radiohead fans – like all fans of big supergroups – are a (reluctant) community. The band have come pretty close, on the evidence of last night, to alienating their fans. Don’t get me wrong: everybody still loves them, but no-one seems sure what to do any more*. Indie kids find it hard enough to dance in time as it is (and I know); but over the skittering beats of Kid A or Hail to the Thief they mostly gave up. The first three songs – all from Hail to the Thief – were almost ignored while the opening beats chattered away. No-one seemed to recognise them. Until the guitars kicked in, and it felt comfortable, like something they knew, a priori, people were paralysed. And then – and this is Radiohead’s most successful trick – they realised they still couldn’t move because of the cross-rhythms, the syncopations, the refusal of the music to sit still and be who you wanted.
There was palpable relief when the crowd had something they could agree upon, latch onto, take part in. When ‘Creep’ got a rare live outing, people knew they’d got their money’s worth. Followed with ‘Paranoid Android’ it was a mass appeal part of the set. Then when people started handclapping on the wrong beats in ‘We Suck Young Blood’, 20,000 pairs of teeth could grit together against the insurrection.
There’s a code, you see. Rules.
Sit Down. Stand Up. A Punch Up at a Wedding.
I’ve never come across an ethnomusicologist studying fans at stadium gigs – I feel like one myself writing this – but they should.
And the final moment in the final song of the night, when as the sequencers take over in ‘Everything in its Right Place’, Yorke steps away from the organ and the mic to no discernible effect and hails the applause for him and his band. The sounds continue regardless, and his presence is erased from the music as he is spotlighted in acclaim.
The two players left crouching on the stage floor twiddled knobs, the reverberating loops twisted and flipped on themselves until no-one had no idea how it was working. The music took charge of its self, the machines talked back. That was special. Radiohead have moved on; not forward, but further and further into the distance. I like it.