TUNE IN, TURN ON
RADIOHEID/FRETBLANKET: Camden Underworld, London
"I WAS 18 on Monday. So this is my first legal gig," confides Fretblanket's Will Copley. I'm grateful for the reminder. It's easy to forget how young Fretblanket are when you're listening to them. Will sings in the kind of throaty grawl that lesser men only acquire after decades of degenerate living, but he still has the strength to soar over the band's busy blur of fuzzed-up guitar noise. The quartet radiate confidence, and the songs are anything but trite sixth-form scribblings. "Twisted" is a fascinating tale of love turned mad, bad and dangerous, and "Curtainsville" has generous measures of momentum and menace.
Fretblanket sound a little too familiar. These latest musical sons of Stourbridge share more than a home town with Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and more than their dress sense with Dinosaur Jr - but they make a moshpit full of converts tonight. Who knows what this band will have achieved by the time they've all turned 20?
Radiohead, of course, have already achieved plenty. There was a delicious irony in the sight of "Anyone Can Play Guitar" in the Top 40 - pop success attained with a song all about the nonsense and hypocrisy that surrounds virtualy all pop successes. There's another paradox early in tonight's show - the sound of a roomful of people singing along with the words "I'm a creep/ I'm a weirdo.../I don't belong here". With Radiohead, alienation is a communal experience.
The quieter songs, like the elegantly paranoid "Stop Whispering", carry as much conviction as the more muscular moments. Radiohead are optimistic enough to assume that you can appreciate irony and understand the understated, so their politics are implied rather than cut up into handy soundbite-sized slogans, but their words always unmistakably take the side of the outsider.
Even so, certain people I know can't quite trust this band. They find the controlled fury in a song like "Creep" suspicious, somehow too orderly to be heartfelt. To be sure, there is something very knowing about Radiohead's songwriting - you can have fun spotting the sly references to everything from Television to The Hollies in their repertoire. Yes, these people know just what they're doing, that's why the do it so well.
See Radiohead perform and feel your doubts disappear. Witness Thom E Yorke during the most manic moments, twisting body and face, crooning and howling as two guitars flail away behind him, and then try to tell me that these boys don't mean it. Radiohead know that the person shouting the loudest isn't necessarily the one making the most sense. It's true that they didn't maintain the stratospheric standard of their singles throughout the "Pablo Honey" album, but the stomping 45s are far from being the only highlights tonight.
Towards the end, Thom introduces a shiny new gem, the next single. "This is called 'Pop Is Dead', which will happen this year unless we have a big success," he announces with a smile, before launching into a song whose crunching chords and sour sentiments make up a sharp twist on the theme of "Anyone Can Piay Guitar". Which is to say that it's another love-hate song, all about how pop can be an empty embarrassment or - like tonight - full of guile and glory.