Manchester Arena, Manchester, October 6
When Thom Yorke introduces ‘Paranoid Android’, a nearby man in his early forties finally allows a strangled cry of elation to leave his throat, so far untested by a lack of singalong opportunities. His face has largely been contorted in bewilderment, and he isn’t alone. It’s been 90 minutes since ‘Airbag’ crash-landed like a precious relic to the sound of 18,000 people erupting at the prospect of a hit-heavy night.
Radiohead are well known for throwing curveballs into their live set. But not since 2000’s ‘Kid A’ have they toured off the back of an album (last year’s ‘The King Of Limbs’) that had such a mixed reaction among fans – fans who are paying more than ever to see them live.
Their innovation has always been calculated, though. Like David Bowie, Talking Heads and other commercially successful experimentalists, Radiohead’s skill is in cherry-picking underground influences and giving them crossover appeal. Tonight they take a gamble, and frequently push the crowd to the point of discomfort.
‘Airbag’ is the second song. But instead of introducing a greatest hits set, it ushers in opiated drones, abstract textures and scuttling rhythms from their back catalogue, with a lightshow that makes them look like they’re in the glare of
a mothership. Sometime Portishead live member Clive Deamer, drumming opposite Phil Selway, brings ‘Bloom’ to its full glory and sharpens the faded edges of ‘The Gloaming’. In this mellow first third, only ‘Separator’ feels a step too far, its sleepy lyrical refrain of “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” sounding far too conclusive so early on. But the set’s flow, punctuated by piano-led tracks ‘The Daily Mail’ and ‘Pyramid Song’, is all the better for the lack of songs from ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’.
‘Planet Telex’ is the third and final pre-‘Kid A’ song to appear and the band look bored at its arrival, Thom Yorke uttering wearily, “Here’s a very old track.” It’s a marked contrast to the intense, skittering din of ‘Feral’ and new song ‘Full Stop’, which pours forth like Fuck Buttons. Before the ‘Everything In Its Right Place’/‘Idioteque’ rave finale, the ponytailed frontman is joined only by Jonny Greenwood for ‘Give Up The Ghost’. The message seems clear: Radiohead are drawing a line under songs that are over 15 years old. Tonight they sound their freshest in years, and their fans are once again being encouraged to play catch-up. May the gradual phasing out of their ’90s stuff continue.
Simon Jay Catling