Radiohead, The O2 Arena, 9th October 2012
From the anti-Britpop The Bends, to the anti-technology OK Computer, to the anti-rock Kid A, Radiohead have always relished opposing prevailing trends. So it is typical of their idiosyncratic nature that their first UK arena gigs since 2006 are in support of last year’s The King of Limbs, a claustrophobic album featuring no conventional arena anthems at all.
And yet, amazingly, it works. Of course, their back catalogue is remarkable. A beautiful ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ and an epic ‘Paranoid Android’, from The Bends and OK Computer respectively, prove why they were the greatest rock band of the late-1990s. Yet the vast majority of material is post-1999, with an especially beautiful four-song medley from 2007’s ethereal In Rainbows. The King of Limbs numbers are the biggest surprise; ‘Bloom’ sounds tight where on record it sounded muddled, while ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’ is transformed from sparse mid-tempo dubstep into an energetic guitar-laden jam. The electronic tricks – live recording and then looping Thom Yorke’s voice during the haunting ‘Give up the Ghost’ – are never gratuitous, only enhancing each track’s hypnotic soundscape. ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ and ‘Idioteque’, performed in a pulsating final encore, find Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien kneeling on the stage manually adding reverb, drumbeats, and samples. With other bands, this would appear indulgent; with Radiohead it’s thrilling.
The O2 can seem slightly soulless, with its parade of chain restaurants and overpriced beers. It is, in many ways, an odd place for the notoriously anti-corporate Radiohead to perform. There is certainly an air of expectation that the show will disappoint many unaccustomed with the band’s more recent records. Yet Yorke relishes this, giving a deathly stare when an audience member interrupts the piano introduction to ‘The Daily Mail’, and later on gleefully suggesting that some will leave feeling bemused. Ultimately, though they left out ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, ‘Just’, and other 90s hits, any fears of confusion were unfounded. Switching effortlessly between rock, jazz, folk, and electronic, Radiohead proved that, nearly twenty years after ‘Creep’, they remain an outstanding live act.