The Arena is at full capacity, not surprising given this is Radiohead’s first UK performance in four years. The vast space is crackling with expectations when suddenly the lights go out and six shadows bound onto the stage. The venue howls and Thom Yorke, in red boots and hair scraped back into a bun, introduces himself as Lady Gaga and with a gunshot snap of the snare drum and a shock of lights the night begins with ‘Lotus Flower’. It’s the eve of Thom Yorke’s birthday and he is brimming with energy, twitching around the microphone. Right from the off it’s a sensory assault and drummer Phil Selway is allied with guest drummer Clive Deamer, both full kits sounding the charge. Twelve massive monitors are lowered over the band, each screen jittering between alternate viewpoints of the band - Yorke’s profile, a shot of fretwork, the stamp of the bassist’s foot - the effect is like triggered synapses or a thousand camera shutters going off in a spin, tk, tk, tk. Throughout the night these visual stimulants go up and come back down in different angled configurations, creating a shattered mirror effect that presents off kilter views of each musician. It’s another unconventional element of the show and perfectly appropriate decoration for Radiohead. Few bands can compete with them when it comes to swerving the obvious and sheer unpredictability. Contrary, compulsively innovative, and perhaps creatively insular… their vastly disparate works have formed an inimitable and always engaging arc.
Tonight’s setlist turns out to be a corker, with the majority chunk given to their most recent albums, ‘Hail to the Thief’, ‘In Rainbows’ and ‘The King of Limbs’, with a few older favourites thrown in. No ‘Creep’ or ‘Just’ – not the songs that made them of course – but a good sprinkling of the straight forward indie rock to accompany the minimal techno and exploratory electronica they indulge in today.
The first half of the set sees Yorke careen across the stage delivering ‘The Daily Mail’, ‘Myxomatosis’ and ‘The Gloaming’ – his soaring voice astoundingly clear and precise, exactly as it sounds on record. His dancing is at times like a flailing seizure - utterly compelling in the same way as Ian Curtis was. Yorke certainly abides by the “dance like nobody is watching” rule, and pulls it off with aplomb.
The energy is contagious and as the opening riff to ‘There There’ strikes the lighting rigs erupt into a blast of molten orange light that bathes the audience, now a fluid tide of nodding bodies. Yorke is about to hit 44 though and there is the need for a few quieter moments. Accordingly, ‘Give up the Ghost’ is timely respite and ‘How to Disappear Completely’ from ‘Kid A’ is a moment of calm that no doubt causes plenty of glassy eyes around the house.
The foreboding drone of 2009’s free download ‘These Are my Twisted Words’ draws a huge crowd response, as do the all-out classics ‘Planet Telex’ and ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, the latter getting a full blown sing along. They close the set with a rousing ‘Paranoid Android’ but after a brief pause they’re straight back to huge applause. The noise dies down swiftly as the first encore begins with a delicate rendition of ‘You and Whose Army?’, followed up by an impromptu chorus from the crowd of ‘Happy Birthday’. The creeping spectre that is ‘Ful Stop’ closes the first encore and is the only brand new song to be showcased.
The band comes back twice more to immense applause and they end the event with ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ and ‘Idioteque’. It’s the night before Yorke’s birthday but this rapturous audience feel like they’ve gotten the cake.
Words by Nick Rice
Photos by Danny Payne