A TRIUMPHANT TOUR NEARS ITS END AT LANCASHIRE COUNTY CRICKET GROUND AS THOM AND THE GANG PREPARE TO PUT THE BAND BACK INTO HIBERNATION.
Thom Yorke and his merry pranksters hit the North for a triumphant end-of-tour gig.
RADIOHEAD EMIRATES OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER TUESDAY, 4 JULY, 2017
They have been such a big band for so long that it is easy to forget just how strange Radiohead’s mass appeal is. Imagine explaining it to someone who’s been living in a cave for 30 years: they’re massive, they’ve headlined Glastonbury three times, they don’t really have any hits, but they do have singalongs, although some of the singalongs don’t have a chorus, they’re a rock band, but they play a big rave number in the middle of the set, and they have three guitarists, two of whom spend a few of the songs playing live samples through their pedals… trying to unpick Radiohead’s brilliance hurts the brain, like attempting to understand how a boiler works when really you should just enjoy having hot water. It’s over a year since they launched the tour to support their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, and it draws closer to its conclusion on a grey July evening in Manchester. After tonight, there are two more shows and then their diary is empty. Thom, Jonny, Ed, Colin and Phil are free to go off and do more solo albums, soundtracks, sabbaticals, water polo lessons – whatever it is Radiohead members do when they’re not being Radiohead members. Perhaps there will be some reflection on the previous 15 months, where over two legs of on-off touring they have reminded people in an amusingly business-as-usual fashion that there is no one to match them as a live band at this level. Coldplay and U2 have more pizzazz, but Radiohead would be just as captivating in a room holding 35 people as they are in front of 35,000. Their taste for the spectacular is a little (a lot) subtler – and if that’s not working, they can always knock out Creep. Radiohead haven’t played their own outdoor show in Manchester since they headlined this venue in 2008, but if tonight has the air of a grand statement then it is more due to tragic circumstance than design. Originally, the band were supposed to play two shows at the Manchester Arena but with the venue still not
AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENS: THE SUN STARTS TO GO DOWN, THE STAGE BEGINS TO ILLUMINATE, THE SONICS SHARPEN AND A GOOD GIG TURNS MAGICAL.
ready to reopen after the May terrorist attack, the dates have been condensed into one night here. On Talbot Road, as crowds make their way towards the converted cricket ground, most conversations are debating whether or not the stage time of 8pm will be adhered to. “They’re on at eight?” says one bloke to his mate, “they won’t be on at eight.” They go on at eight. There are still huge queues outside the venue as they take to the stage.
Every Radiohead show this year has begun with Daydreaming, a beautifully drifting piece of music that has more in common with birdsong than it does a rabble-rousing stadiumrock opener. The last time Q saw Thom Yorke, at a show in Paris in 2016, he explained how band manager Chris Hufford told him he was “fucking mad” for playing Daydreaming so early in the set. Tonight, about 50 gigs later, and perhaps due to the fact that it’s still daylight when they come on, Yorke finally heeds his advice and instead they begin with Let Down, the majestic centrepiece of OK Computer. You could never imagine Radiohead doing anything as appeasing as playing that album in full – although they’d probably get a kick out of “performing” pre-millennial, robot-voiced manifesto Fitter Happier in the middle of a set – but tonight comes close, albeit on shuffle. Lucky, a crunching Airbag and the dozy sway of No Surprises are all aired before the sun goes down, a huge cheer erupting during the latter’s “bring down the government” line. Before that, there’s the compelling sight of a fight taking place while being soundtracked by the soothing glide of All I Need. Yorke has his arms in the air, crooning at the front of the stage, oblivious as two men are marched towards the exit. During the extended groove of Everything In Its Right Place, a father and son pogo with arms around each other, mum standing just behind. It’s a good gig. Everybody is having a good time, apart from the fighty men. Some people might be thinking,
“I’ve seen them better before, but this is good, they started with Let Down, I’m having a good time.” And then something happens: the sun starts to go down, the stage begins to illuminate, the sonics sharpen and a good gig turns magical. Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi prompts a mass singalong and all of a sudden Yorke’s voice sounds like it’s coming through the clouds. A frenzied Idioteque gives this cricket ground the headrush of a messy house party.
Shifted to the opening song of the first encore, Daydreaming is transfixing and then comes an exhilarating run of songs. Paranoid Android sparks a conga in the area behind the mixing desk – why wouldn’t it? – and it starts to rain as the song comes to its “rain down” section. That probably has more to do with the fact we’re in Manchester than any sign that Radiohead are gods of rain. Fake Plastic Trees is so delicate and un-bombastic it’s as if it’s being whispered into your ear, and There There gets a Radio Ga Ga-style clapalong from front to back. There’s a rare airing of The Bends and then Karma Police completes a fantastic show, its “for a minute there, I lost myself ” refrain bouncing round the venue as giddy punters filter out. There is nothing to match the emotional clench that Radiohead pull their crowd into. Afterwards, there’s an aftershow in a conference room-slash-bar that looks like it’s played host to some pretty special powerpoint presentations in its time. Various band members come in and out and actor Cillian Murphy, with a freshly shaven Peaky Blinders haircut, hovers near the door. Jonny Greenwood sips a red wine on the balcony, nearby Phil Selway catches up with some friends and Ed O’Brien, who has the suave presence of a successful TV presenter, plays host in the main room. Next: who knows? Jonny Greenwood and Yorke will play a benefit show as a duo for the earthquake-hit Le Marche region of Italy, and after that there’s nothing scheduled. O’Brien has long been planning to record a solo album and is expected to crack on with that. When Radiohead ended the King Of Limbs tour in 2012, they didn’t resurface for four years. They are not a band beholden to the traditional rotation of release/tour/record, but it would be a shame if there was another four-year wait, especially when they’re in this kind of form. They move at their own pace, spin on their own axis, make you want more. They are one of a kind.
Everything in its right place: Radiohead (from left, Colin Greenwood, touring drummer Clive Deamer, Phil Selway, Jonny Greenwood, Yorke, Ed O’Brien) deliver the goods at Emirates Old Trafford.
’Head boy: Yorke conducts the throng.
“Rain down, rain down...” The crowd prepare for a spot of inclement weather.
Anyone can play guitar – but not like this... Jonny lets rip.