Somewhere between Thom Yorke’s “Not!” joke and the way he teases Jonny Greenwood for flubbing the intro to ‘Nude’, something becomes clear: Radiohead are more playful, more human, than we’ve seen them in years.
It’s the fifth date on the band’s world tour, their first of three at London’s Roundhouse. Since the tour began in Amsterdam last weekend, the band have been playing crowd-delighting sets that make the most of their deep back catalogue, drawing on a pool of songs spanning the 21 years from ‘The Bends’ to their new, ninth album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool‘.
Other than the first five songs – the same sweeping five that open ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, performed in shifting light and under a bank of video screens high above the stage – there’s been little consistency to the setlists so far, meaning every night is something of a lucky dip.
Tonight, Thom Yorke jokes they may have gone too far, declaring the set “a bit too hitsville. Or… non-hitsville” before the second encore. ‘Creep’, the totemic Radiohead hit, doesn’t get an outing tonight, but that’s a fact that would displease few fans. Especially when three big tracks are dusted off for the first time this year – ‘Planet Telex’, ‘Myxomatosis’, and the electrifying ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’.
On the latter, Yorke clutches three maracas in one hand and breaks into his distinctive, carefree groove. Throughout the 150-minute show, Yorke is twitchy and alive; he dances wildly to the juddering ‘Myxomatosis’, and conducts the crowd’s chorus of voices like a choirmaster on the mournful ‘2+2=5’.
On the sublime ‘Nude’, guitarist Jonny Greenwood hits the aforementioned bum note, and a baffled Yorke starts clowning around, folding his arms while the band restart the track. When Greenwood hits his note correctly on the second go, the crowd gives a huge cheer. It’s a real icebreaker moment. As the set goes on, Yorke loosens up more and more, to the point where he’s extracting actual belly-laughs from the 3,300-strong crowd. There’s a hilarious moment in the first encore when he responds to fans’ yelped song requests with a series of playful “No”s, each one accompanied by an affronted twitch: “No. No. NO. No. No. No. NO. No!”
Ahead of the final song, the unparalleled ‘Paranoid Android’, he says, “And finally, before your vegan kebab on the way home…” And during that song, hasty fans chant “Rain down” ahead of time and Yorke audibly tuts, joking, “Calm the fuck down”. Then there’s that unfashionable, self-aware “Not” joke: “If you stay here all night, we’ll play everything.” The crowd roars, and he adds “… Not.” Tonight, as a frontman, Yorke is enormously endearing.
But the comedic aspect doesn’t mean they’re not taking the music seriously. Testament to their incredible scope is the fact that they can fit transcendent tracks like ‘Daydreaming’ alongside the blasting riffs of ones like ‘My Iron Lung’. The odd flaw peeks in, but that’s humanising, rather than embarrassing. And it’s on a very human note that Yorke leaves us, unexpectedly thanking everyone for the response to ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, which debuted at Number One in the UK. “It’s been a long time, so… it’s pretty fucking mad really.”
It may be false modesty; Radiohead could have sold out this venue for the month, and there are people outside literally begging for spare tickets. But if the decision to scale back to smaller venues for this tour was motivated by a need to connect with their audience on an individual, human and real basis, then Radiohead have surpassed their goal.