VICTORIA PARK, LONDON
(4.5 out of 5 stars)
VICTORIA PARK, LONDON
(4.5 out of 5 stars)
ONE thing's for sure, you realise as you trek from Mile End Tube towards the eerie, tented structure that will host Radiohead's next three performances: we ain't at V2000 any more, Tonto. Because Thom Yorke and his pals have done everything possible do distance tonight from 2000's other Big! Outdoor! Events!
It's not just the much-touted, if not strictly true, "no logo" anti-corporate stance (Budweiser and Virgin get right in-yer-face if you're one of the lucky few able to get anywhere near the one and only bar): there's the unglamorous location, the complete lack of other “attractions” (a Samaritans stand is about as "interesting" as it gets) and the strictly no-frills show itself.
Many of this year’s outdoor shows, from Deconstruction to The Carting Weekend, have felt like part of a joyous, overground-at-last celebration. Tonight it feels like we've stumbled upon a clandestine meeting of an underground- and-staying-there, revolutionary faction. AN underground revolutionary faction stifled by the most frightfully polite young(ish) people in Britain, admittedly - but nonetheless, in a sanitised world where we care more about watching “Big Brother" than Big Broker watching us, the whiff of insurrection is in the air.
Perhaps that's why tonight absolutely, unequivocally works. Because most of this year's best music has come from those who refuse to let rock'n'roll be reduced to background music: Limp Bizkit do it by shouting so loud you can't ignore them. Eminem does it by saying the unsayable. And Thom Yorke - while he may be horrified to be mentioned in the some breath as Fred Durst and Marshall Mathers - has achieved the same effect simply by ensuring we have nothing to distract us from even his most indigestible music. "Buy into us wholesale," they seem to be saying. "Or not at all.”
Which means, of course, we have to put up with CLINIC, who, while not averse to nibbling at the old corporate cock by letting their music be used on Levi's ads, are not exactly big on compromise. Or tunes. Or charisma. Or anything much at all, really, unless you count "droning on a nit like Stereolab without the good bits". Still, they serve their purpose. After this, Radiohead can't help but resemble Britney Spears On Ice…
Or perhaps not. The sheer, unadulterated love pouring off the crowd as RADIOHEAD shuffle self-consciously onto the stage would humble most people, but not Thom Yorke. For a second he milks the applause like an actual proper rock star, but then the awesome baseline of "The National Anthem" is making our brains throb and we head off into uncharted, post-rock territory.
Make no mistake, dudes, there is some pretty disorientating shit right here: a collision of disparate, dyslexic sounds designed to confuse and challenge even those of us who've had "Kid A” glued to the stereo for a week in an attempt to make sense of it. There's the dislocated funk of “Morning Bell", the naked alienation of "How To Disappear Completely", plus some songs so new and raw they're not even on “Kid A".
But - hey! - no one ever said it was going to be easy. They didn't say it was going to be fun, either, but against all expectations, tonight is. Perhaps it's because live performance adds new focus to what is undoubtedly willfully "difficult" new material. It could be that the alien surroundings and sense of occasion allow us to immerse ourselves utterly in the music. Or maybe it's because, for all their desire to do something different and their irksome shunning of vast tracts of their back catalogue (we expected no "Creep", but no "Fake Plastic Trees"? No "High And Dry”? Come on!), Radiohead know instinctively what makes a great night out.
So after the initial burst of the new, we're rewarded with a sublimely emotive "Lucky" and a rampaging "My Iron Lung" that bring screams of joy - or possibly relief - from the 10,000-strong throng. Thom, however, is still on edge: immediately after the former, he frantically gesticulates for the photographers to leave the pit before announcing, "I'm not going to say anything tonight, because there's been too much crap said already."
That this remark is followed by an impassioned, if awkward, "Optimistic" from the new album, with its "You can try the best you can… the best you can is good enough” refrain suggests the mixed reception for the album may be praying on his mind, but this crowd seem to have made their minds up a week and a day before the record hits the shops.
They may only hit the heights of passion for the old songs - a frankly dazzling “Paranoid Android” sees seemingly half the crowd with their mobiles in the air, relaying the sonic mayhem to those who couldn't get a ticket - but they're prepared to go wherever Radiohead want to take them. They even collectively shush someone who screams before “… Android's" "From a great height…” coda.
Eventually, the band pick up on this and loosen up to the extent that Thom can quip "Shall we go now?" after they f*** up the intro to "No Surprises”, and Ed O'Brien can swing his hips and rattle a maraca like a Home Counties Ricky Martin. But such high spirits never threaten to dilute the intensity of the music: “Exit Music (For A Film)" is brilliantly bilious, "No Surprises" nothing short of gorgeous, "Airbag" almost punky in its cut-up cacophony. Consequently, before you know it, a set that lasts well over two hours has slipped by and even the most cynical observers have been well and truly Thomoed.
Not least Mr Yorke himself. Usually a nervous performer, during "Idioteque" he seems to lose himself endlessly in the music, indulging in what can only be described as "full-on 'my-body-is-my-tool' mime action", as he jerks around the stage. The fact that no one laughs clearly inspires him to greater heights, as a majestic "Just" summons up the sort of raw rock power that Slipknot can only dream of and "Everything In Its Right Place" sees him conducting the crowd in, of all things, a good, old-fashioned clap-along, before stumbling around the stage like he's auditioning for the lead in the West End production of "I'm A Bit Flippin' Mental, Pal".
Encore time, and even here Radiohead don't play safe. A stupendous "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is followed by a spiky "I Might Be Wrong", and a ragged-but-rapturous "The Bends" is balanced by a half-formed song so new it doesn't even have a title yet ("Probably something about pyramids," shrugs Thom) and the terminally obscure arthouse angst of "Motion Picture Soundtrack".
But as a final "Karma Police" - aimed at "the Czech police who are stopping people going to Prague for the Jubilee 2000 protest", and positively brimming with righteous ire - reverberates around the spooktent, you realise that the fact you've had to invest more of yourself than is usual for a rock concert has paid off. Like those Olympian athletes sweating blood on the other side of the planet, we've made sacrifices and we've got our reward.
For two hours there, we lost ourselves. And, unlike so many other gigs, it felt - if Thom Yorke will allow us to utter the words he refuses to sing - so f***ing special.