London Hackney Victoria Park

[a]Radiohead[/a] are the most important guitar band on the planet - but will they be in a little over a week when [b]'Kid A'[/b] is released - or even in two hours time?...

On a Saturday night in east London‘s Hackney music history hangs in the balance – [a]Radiohead[/a] are the most important guitar band on the planet – but will they be in a little over a week when ‘Kid A’ is released – or even in two hours time?

Perhaps the pressure’s showing, or perhaps the band have grown so familiar with their new songs that they’ve forgotten that most of the people here will be tuning in their musical radar for the first time. Half the songs tonight are new ones and some of those won’t be on the album next week. The set’s uneasier than earlier on the tour – more angular – less ‘here’s our new songs hope you like ’em’ and more ‘this is the All New Radiohead take it or leave it’.

‘The National Anthem’ bursts through the plastic tent environment driven by ‘Airbag’-style sliced-up drumming and a bassline that holds the woozy edifice together when the random noise and feedback rolls in two-thirds of the way through. It’s a stark illustration from the off that it’s not about songs anymore – it’s about sounds. But what glorious sounds.

‘Morning Bell’ with it’s ‘walking, walking, walking’ end refrain flickers with such obscene beauty that it seems to have existed for an aeon – or at least on one of the last two albums. That it stands head and shoulders with anything from the back catalogue tonight is a testament as to why we believed in [a]Radiohead[/a] so strongly.

Representing the further future is the vicious piano-plonking bile of ‘You And Whose Army’ and the Can throb of ‘Dollars And Cents’ which promise much from the next record (that’s the one early next year after ‘Kid A’).

However it is the ballads that sparkle most brilliantly, ‘Lucky’‘s James Bond meets J G Ballard fragile epic is simply stunning – an exquisite exercise in breaking hearts on a massive scale – the delicately crushing misery of ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ causes equal cardiac distress. But eclipsing even these is ‘How To Disappear Completely’ from ‘Kid A’, an extraordinary sonically-driven ballad that wields old and new [a]Radiohead[/a] together into a perfect whole and is the point when the new [a]Radiohead[/a] fly.

Thom – increasingly dancing like Michael Stipe crossed with Ian Curtis – only breaks his silence to dedicate ‘Karma Police’ to the Czech police who’ve “been stopping people at the border coming to the Prague Jubilee 2000 demonstration against the IMF and the World Bank” next week.

[url=]Click here for more on Jubilee 2000 and the Drop The Debt campaign.

However it is ‘My Iron Lung’ that provides the profound revelation, it bristles with the kind of snotty angst that first made [a]Radiohead[/a] so utterly seductive. For a raging moment it provides an acute indication of how much they have evolved. This was once the song that torched all preconceptions about [a]Radiohead[/a] – this was the song designed (yes, designed) to bury their reputation as the one-trick-pony-‘Creep’ band – and this was the song that almost destroyed them. And now the people reeling from the gloriously difficult new songs are nestling in its familiar crunching riffs and stop-start structure as though it was the warm embrace of a Coldplay ballad.

The question is when [a]Radiohead[/a] release their Garage/Folk crossover in 2005 will the cold cut-up electronica of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ provide an ample substitute shelter for the thundering angst of yore? Yes, probably. And for tonight at least, the job’s done. And it’s good ‘un.

Setlist The National AnthemMorning BellLuckyMy Iron LungIn LimboOptimistic Paranoid AndroidExit MusicHow to Disappear CompletelyClimbing Up The WallsNo SurprisesYou And Whose Army?AirbagDollars And Cents IdiotequeJustEverything In Its Right PlaceStreet Spirit (encore) I Might Be WrongThe BendsEgyptian Song Motion Picture Soundtrack (second encore) Karma Police