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Radiohead
Royal Festival Hall, London
4.5/5 stars
by Andre Paine




YOUR mates couldn't afford to pay a tout £150 for this momentous return. Now they're desperate to know; just how arse-bendingly amazing are the new songs? How do you tell them that Radiohead haven't actually got any new songs?
Well, not as we know them. Radiohead are so advanced that the concept of mere "songs" is something they left in the 20th century. So, starting with "Optimistic", the fans are happy to embrace their sci-fi future. Haunted by darkly magical guitars, thunder-rumbling beats and Thom's head-shaking screams, it rocks out with Jonny centre-stage, and then the familiar belching bassline of "Bones" is trampled by spiralling guitar trauma. The band hide in coloured shadows, but "Karma Police" arrives like an alien sunrise with piano that makes Mansun sound like Chas & Dave hosting a knees-up down the Queen Vic. Devotees wake from their 18-month gig slumber to Thom's stunning choral rap, and then take in "Morning Bell" - tick-tock drums, sampled piano shuddering and Thom spitting like it's his last breath. While Ed does chicken-head jerks.
They're actually having a larf, even on the tumbleweed-echo of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" and "Talk Show Host", with its whistling guitars and Jonny humping his keyboard. "National Anthem" starts with an almost AC/DC-like grinding, then Thom wrestles his mic stand like he's a conductor for groovy electricity. Which he is. But this is the musical equivalent of mathematical formulae - mind-blowing once you get it, but hard work in the meantime.
Which makes the incredible, spot-lit "No Surprises" a huge relief, along with "My Iron Lung" and its "Creep"-substitute machine riffs with the band frozen by strobes. Thom screams "Rock!", then they f*** our heads up again. "In Limbo" is so delicate you hardly dare breathe, while "You And Whose Army" with its talk of "cronies" (Thom dedicates it to Tony Blair, snarling "I'm so disappointed I never got to shake your hand"), has Tori Amos-esque piano poses from Thom, before building into one of the finest, most rockin' new tunes.
Experimentation must be weighing them down, though, because it's not until they switch the lights on during cosmic tear-jerker "Lucky" that we can actually read the emotion in Ed's face and feel fully engaged. Now the old tunes (stadium-wailing "Airbag", three-guitar orgy "Just") are more beautiful and powerful than Prada-clad angels on Harleys, while the new material (especially Thom vocal-sampling "Everything In Its Right Place") sounds like a secret society of musicologists making evolution-tampering sound. The glitterball-lit encore is painfully awesome; stuttering, double-bass mystery "Egyptian Song", almost-catchy "Knives Out" (with an indie guitar sighting!), heart-melting "Fake Plastic Trees". And there's Ed's story about randy girl chinchillas who piss on their mates to enjoy (Thom: "That image has been in your head all day, hasn't it?"), before the prog-monster "Paranoid Android".
Two hours of mesmerising confusion ends with "How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found" and violent applause. Privilege tinged so slightly with despair at our complex, musical re-education. So what do you tell your expectant friends? Yes, Radiohead have got songs. Now it's just everyone else that hasn't.

COLIN GREENWOOD’S VERDICT (Bassist)

“Yeah, it was cool. It was good. Sorry, it’s a bit late, I’m tired. But it was brilliant! It was great when the lights came on during ‘Lucky’, really nice to see the audience’s faces, if a bit scary. It was really good because we all met [Sixties crooning legend and Meltdown curator] Scott Walker and he was a lovely man. He was the reason we’re all here tonight and why we’re playing music together. We hope we can do it again. It was a long set? Yeah, but it didn’t feel very long. That’s just the way we like it.”