Thom Yorke and co. are releasing a new album, and they’re taking it on tour. Discounting festival dates, it’s not a massive tour, consisting of only six locations, from Amsterdam to Mexico City, via Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, though they’ll play each venue more than once. Before they take on the 3,3000-capacity Roundhouse in London in May, though, let’s whet our appetites and remember Radiohead’s best tours to date.
When they hit the big time
The classic OK Computer made superstars of Radiohead upon release in 1997. The resulting tour was captured in the documentary Meeting People Is Easy, which found the band on the brink of exhaustion, grappling with the pressures of burgeoning megafame. Yet the shows themselves were blistering, zeitgeisty testaments to fulfilling your own potential, with the sounds of that epic album easily filling venues around the world. Radiohead were the band to see at that time, as evidenced by the ludicrously ‘90s guest list for the show at New York’s Irvin Plaza: Madonna, U2 (with 18 guests), Brad Pitt, Eddie Vedder, Beastie Boys, Blur AND Oasis, Rick Rubin, Kate Moss and Marilyn Manson (who was deemed slightly less important than U2, with 17 guests.
When they invited punters to roll up, roll up
Radiohead really pushed the boat out on their Kid A tour in 2000, spending three nights playing in a big top tent in London’s Victoria Park. The posters were mocked-up in Victorian-style, as were the tickets. Kid A hadn’t yet been released at that time, but this didn’t stop the band playing all but two songs from the record. So the set-list was a half-and-half split between unreleased material and fan favourite, meaning they played bangers such as ‘Just’ directly before the hushed, intricate ‘Everything In Its Right Place’. What a way to ease an audience of 8000 into your new material.
When they hit the road just because
2006, and Radiohead don’t have a new album to promote. In fact, they’re working on In Rainbows, but are frustrated with how long it’s taking, so hit the road to test out and work on some of the material. The resulting summer tour saw them play a 28-set show at music festival Bonnaroo in Tennessee, which has gone down in legend among fans, and which the band themselves have described as a favourite gig. Six years later, footage from the show surfaced online, helping it achieve canonical status. Radiohead played a bunch of songs from In Rainbows (including ’15 Step’, House of Cards, ‘Weird Fishes – Arpeggi’), which went down so well the band later let punters pay whatever they wanted for the album. Wait, what?
When they put the planet first
Radiohead’s 2008 tour was a commendable thing: as eco-friendly as possible, it saw them attempt to reduce emissions and use recyclable good wherever they could. Support band Liars revealed that they had been given refillable containers to drink from, rather than disposable cups that harm the environment, while the tour’s trucks and buses ran on biofuel. Airfreight was also banned and Radiohead played venues as close to public transport as possible, encouraging punters to pool their journeys. Liars published a blog post in which they wrote: “In a world full of fear and ripe with insincerity it’s such a relief to have met Radiohead. They are purveyors of truth, beauty and a moral responsibility to the planet.” Right on!
When their arena tour was the weirdest ever
“Shut up and play the hits”: words not in the vocabulary of any Radiohead fan. In 2012, in support of King of Limbs, they played the cavernous, corporate megalith that is the London 02 Arena (as well as the Manchester Evening News Arena). But there were no concessions to commercialism and the band didn’t trade on their ‘90s hits. Yes, they did ‘Karma Police’, but directly followed it with the seriously weird instrumental track ‘Feral’. The set was covered with loads of video screens that bathed in the band light, an effect so transfixing that the 20,000-strong crowd were more interested in paying attention than filming on their phones, which is pretty unusual these days, eh? But that’s Radiohead: subverting expectations at every turn.