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Paris Bercy Stadium
by James Oldham

After a year out, Radiohead have picked the perfect moment to return. At 11.30 on a damp Paris evening, Radiohead stroll purposefully out into the purple half-light and engulfing hysteria, fully aware that what they’re about to play is a million light years away from everything that surrounds it. And better still, it doesn’t feature any bongos.
This, their first and only European show this year, comes six tortuous hours into an Amnesty-sponsored celebration of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, and you can just guess what that means. Tracy Chapman and digeridoos, Peter Gabriel and complex drum solos, Page & Plant and the OAP blues, and Alanis Morissette and a whole skyscraper full of sincerity. It’s not pretty, but that suits Radiohead fine because the moment they crouch over their amps and begin the ascent into the psychedelic reverberations of ‘Lucky’ they leave all that way behind.
In a year when only Mansun have tried, but ultimately failed, to surpass the interstellar experimentation of ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead now think further ahead than ever.
Without playing any new material, they give an exemplary reminder of what this year had missed out on and what the next has to look forward to.
The massed ranks of French youth might shut their eyes, spark their lighters and raise their arms heavenwards in expectation of stadium bombast, but instead they’re swept away by a wave of dense and starkly beautiful symphonics.
Aside from Spiritualised and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, it’s hard to think of a more powerful live band currently operating. And while the distinctive stubbly figure of Thom Yorke might be the centre of attention, it’s those around him who elevate this performance into something extraordinary. To his right, guitarist Ed O’Brien coats ‘Karma Police’ in space-fuzzed harmonica and machine-buzz noise, while to his left kneels Jonny Greenwood, his towering frame bent double over an effects rack that provides the magical twist to every song they play tonight.
As vital to Radiohead as Nick McCabe is to The Verve, the sheer variety of sounds he induces is startling. Whether he’s swaying his way through ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ or smearing crystal-clear xylophone over the top of ‘No Surprises’, he’s a captivating presence. And while it sometimes seems he’s on a one-man mission to make the beautiful ugly, he only succeeds in doing the opposite.
With this as ballast it’s hardly surprising that Thom Yorke appears relaxed and combative. His every move provokes delirium, and when he starts punching the air and jumping on the spot just prior to ‘Paranoid Android’, there are fainting fits across the building. Frankly, it’s lucky he doesn’t know any French other than “Ça va?” or else Amnesty would be forced to lay on extra ambulances.
After only 50 minutes of this frenzied devotion (which is still a full 20 minutes longer than anyone else has been allotted) Radiohead are forced to begin their final song, with an eloquent reminder of why they are here and a simple thank you. What follows is a carefully measured rendition of ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, the tick-tock rhythm and sky-bound melody soaring out and above the crowd before snapping to a halt and leaving the band to depart in silence.
As inspired and wondrous as ever, we should start counting down the days to their return now. Really, it can’t come soon enough.