Victoria Park, London
The setting is a vast green park in Hackney. A juxtaposition in itself, to be followed by the context of Mercury Award nominated newcomer Bats for Lashes and a monumental 25 song set from a band first introduced to me by my sister at a tender age of 6. I suppose it’s best if I begin this account of one of the most compelling live shows of the year with a little preface. Take it as an advance warning of the inevitable bias that will follow.
This being myself, sat in a car, being driven home from school along the A13, with OK Computer playing on a tape made for my mum by a friend. Never before had music had such an effect on me both mentally and physically (admittedly I was only 7 or 8). Paranoid Android was leaking its sneering lyrics and blissful harmonies out of these tiny speakers and I was just sitting there, wishing that the clouds could morph into a mammoth speaker system so the rest of the world could hear these wonderful sounds and feel what I’m feeling inside. As Thom, droll as ever, spits out “God loves his children, yeah”, I feel infinite. This was the day, the exact specific moment that music became a significant part of my life, and since then, to this day, Radiohead have consistently left me in a state of awe and unparalleled wonder. This was my first time seeing them live (don’t ask why it took me so long). You can imagine I was feeling a little bit excited.
So now you know that, you can forgive the consequent rim job review that will undoubtedly follow. Great, let’s begin. Now, I had never heard much of Bats for Lashes, except that she likes to ride around on a BMX on music videos, and she dresses similar to Lovefoxxx. Awesome, I’m sold on that alone, let’s go. However, I didn’t expect young Natasha Khan to postpone my excitement and have my attention completely fixed on her soaring voice and uncouth melodies. This set had a full colour palette of sound, as bright and life assuring as Bjork, yet as dark and obscure as Kate Bush’s ‘The Dreaming‘. In the words of a now forgotten Christopher Eccleston (referencing someone other than David Tennant or Tom Baker as the Doctor? Poppycock!), “Fantasssstic”! Despite a brief disaster in sound, Natasha and her eclectic cronies kept the crowd transfixed and provided an ever-growing crowd with a perfect appetiser for some ‘real good’ music.
Radiohead Radiohead Radiohead Radiohead Radiohead Radiohead.
The 45 minute interim between acts was a bizarre one. Not only did I somehow manage to bump into my best friend from childhood (we used to go round each other’s house, watch 7 Television Commercials on VHS and eat crisps more or less every weekend) in this monstrous mob of left wing music lovers (some may call it fate), but we were both plunged into a conversation with someone who can only be described as Senor Wikipediá.
This man knew absolutely everything about these specific 5 dudes from Oxford it was somewhat horrifying. Not only this, but if me or my friend mentioned any slightly obscure band or b-side, he would respond in a continuous comic sketch fashion with “Boyyyys!”, sounding both surprised and aroused and our name dropping. There’s one at every gig, and my lord, they make me happy to be alive, I won’t lie to you. Admirable dedication, if worrying, and slightly creepy. Still, what a hero.
Enough chit-chat. As the time grew nearer, the crowd were lulled into a deathly silence, before erupting with joy as our heroes make their way onto the stage, storming their way into the melee of beats that open 15 Step. Following, with almost no gap at all with Bodysnatchers, we can see that In Rainbows – you know, that album that almost every journalist in the world insists on mentioning it’s controversial online release, as if it were more important than it being a simply superb album, varied beautifully and their most accessible work in a decade (arguably the easiest to obtain also) – is going to be a key element in tonight’s set, and with 9 out of the 10 tracks getting jammed out to a warm reception who’s complaining? I must point out that it is a mild kind of warm, but these songs don’t exactly call for elbow throwing; trust Radiohead to leave 40,000 in a glorious, awkwardly spellbound gaze. Combine music as powerful as this with majestic lights in the shape of gargantuan icicles and you’re bound to create some kind of blissful tension. I shit you not, I almost cried during Reckoner. It is that overpowering. Also, I am a fass.
Some reviews are claiming that the band were ‘too distant’ to call this show a success, but from a group that’s notoriously shy onstage (well, apart from Thom causing a ‘Free Tibet’ chant that could be heard from the heavens), and the overwhelming amount of communication in the music alone, do we really need the unnecessary jive talking between songs? I came for the music, didn’t you? Who needs words when the unmistakeable bass fuzz from The National Anthem kicks in, or that opening riff from Just beckons the population of Victoria Park forward like some topsy-turvy Spartans? If this is the case then why bother with semantics?
25 songs. Two encores. Flawlessly played. All these years I’ve spent hyping myself for this and let me tell you this, Radiohead fucking deliver. As Thom croons “come on if you think you can take us on”, whilst playfully leaning into the camera, propelling his satirical expression onto a 100m wide screen creating a wonderful ‘we aren’t taking this seriously at all’ moment.As the song escalades and the line “You forget so easy” causes the screen to split into a tripped out collage of faces while the piano crashes in I feel myself feeling just like I did in that car ride. Only this time, instead of a speaker and my mother, it’s an incredible PA system and 40,000 people, all wallowing in the same immersive euphoria as myself. After all these years, whether I’ve transformed into a world weary pessimistic bastard or not, Radiohead remain as extraordinary as they were when I was a wide eyed child, full of hope. Some things never change.