The Look Of Yorke
RADIOHEAD’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood previewed new material during a surprise semi-acoustic set at the London Tramshed Last Wednesday (October 10).
With Yorke on guitar and Greenwood playing guitar and keyboards, they performed seven songs beginning with a slow, compressed version of “Iron Lung”.
Even in semi-acoustic versions, the four new tracks they unveiled in the set recalled the most intensely emotional moments of the band’s acclaimed last album, “The Bends”.
Dressed in black jeans and black trainers and in fine voice, Yorke was critical of talkative, inattentive segments of the audience, commenting at one point, “We appreciate the people who ARE listening. I think all the people who turn up for a free beer could afford to buy a f***ing pint.”
At one point, during an intense “Fake Plastic Trees”, he stopped performing altogether to lean over and spit, “Shut the f*** up” to an event organiser who was talking loudly with a photographer directly in front of his microphone.
The evening had been arranged by the style magazine Dazed And Confused which is celebrating its 25th issue. DJ Shadow and James Labelle also played sets.
Introducing a song called “Lift”, reminiscent of “Nice Dream”, Yorke said, “This is for all the coke freaks in the audience.” As the song drew to a close, the singer permitted himself a grin. The next song, “Let Down”, a wistful, lump-throated ballad which recalled “Black Star”, prompted the loudest audience response and a second, bigger grin from Yorke.
Picking up a 12-string acoustic, Yorke then previewed a creeping, deliberate “No Surprises”, with Beatle-inspired psychedelic guitar lines reminiscent of “Iron Lung” and including the lines, ‘This is the final fake/Your final bellyache,’ and a chorus of ‘No alarms and no surprises.’
The duo concluded the evening with a final new song, “Exit Music”. Its delicate, folk-tinged melody made a slow crescendo to claustrophobic despair as Yorke’s anguished, Bono-like soar repeated the fiercely venomous line, “We hope that you choke.”
Radiohead are currently working on their new LP which is due for a February release.
RADIOHEAD, THE TRAMSHED, LONDON
IN the corner of this wretched party for the beautiful people hands a photograph of Thom Yorke, pointing an accusing finger around the room; he’s hunched, he’s the turning worm. Onstage stand the real Thom Yorke, casting an accusing eye around this perfumed hell; he’s erect, he’s the biting snake.
Nevertheless, as the circular invocation to “My Iron Lung” oozes out from Jonny Greenwood’s guitar, the chattering classes relentlessly chatter. And, as the Reduced Radiohead Company perform – never merely play, mind – their yap rises to fill the room. The sneer on Thom’s face as he hisses, “Suck, suck your teenage thumb,” at these emotional infants cats him as both beast and beau. Jonny’s mechanical precision, his taut, avalanche style seems like high explosive, ready to self-destruct if only it could selfISH-destruct as well. What should have been spectral moments flicker into grainy war footage. It’s Thom against Us, and I’ve never been so ashamed to be among the “Us” in all my life.
For what it’s worth, the first new song, “Lift” – its title rendered almost inaudible by the crowd’s babble of deep, deep shallowness – smoulders, fumes, then ignites. Like the epic material of “The Bends”, it’s a direct line to the subconscious, the classical music of a millennial end. Perhaps only when you see them stripped down to a bilious duo on a minimal stage can you understand how Radiohead sound so alien on record, so fierce. The second new song, “Let Down”, humbly offers a spiralling tune to dissolve our hearts. It’s the sound of velvet burning, or agitated sleep, but, before I can focus on myself, Thom is tearing his face open to howl against the roar of the crowd, his head ricocheting from side to side. The muscles in his whiplashed neck relax and… the song is over.
He’s finally had enough of the babble and sneers, “I think all the people who turned up for the free beer could afford to buy a f***ing pint,” before launching into crystalline “Fake Plastic Trees”. But, halfway through, and ironically just before the line, “He used to do surgery for girls in the Eighties,” Thom abandons the performance, waiting for some attention, just a little respect. That line mirrors precisely what he is being subjected to tonight – an Eighties resurgence of fake, plastic, surgical pleasure. Everything tailored, nipped, tucked and perfected. Sterilised.
Radiohead are the greatest hope for revenge on tonight’s hedonistic flock. The shapes Thom pulls, the movements he conjures, are like the throes of a dying insect; the sound he makes is the very antitheses of glee, the apotheosis of regret. In spite of this, the new songs carry a shiveringly profound sense of space and freedom. It suggests that, while Radiohead pretty much lied about their new material being the sound of optimism, there may yet be much to be optimistic about.
Just not here, tonight.