Live: Royal Albert Hall, London
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
After an absence of over 18 months, Radiohead return to British live performance as guests of Scott Walker's Meltdown festival and seem strangely preoccupied by chinchillas.
Their set mirrors the one they've been road-testing in Mediterranean ruins over the past couple of weeks. Interspersed with older songs like 'Just', 'Fake Plastic Trees' and 'Talk Show Host' (the song which the band took as the signpost to their new direction) is an avalanche of new material, which tonight comprises 'Optimistic' (almost a Krautrock folk song), 'Morning Bell' (described by Thom Yorke as “a song about amnesia”) 'National Anthem' (featuring Jonny Greenwood playing a transistor radio, and Thom affecting comically phallic gestures with his guitar), 'In Limbo' (reminiscent in its blurred vocal style of early REM), and most notably, 'You And Whose Army'.
Announced by Thom saying, “This is dedicated to Tony Blair, I’m so disappointed I didn't get to shake his hand” and with lyrics that prominently feature the word “cronies”, it seems to mark the group's avowed intention to become more overtly political, and during the song, Thom leans back from the piano to grimly parody the Tony Blair smile.
Of the new material in their main set, the band continue with two lower-key songs. 'Dollars & Cents' and an attempt at the vocal loop-based 'Everything In Its Right Place'. Frustrated at the song's apparent failure, Thom kicks his keyboard in frustration.
Thanking Scott Walker and declaring themselves “not worthy”, the encore includes the excellent piano-based rock of 'Egyptian Song'. 'Knives Out' (“a song about cannibalism”, and reminiscent of 'The Queen Is Dead'-era Smiths), and the sound collage 'How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found'.
On a lighter note, guitarist Ed O'Brien explains from the stage why the band have dedicated both 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)' and 'Paranoid Android' to “the chinchillas”.
“When a female chinchilla is dissatisfied with her partner, she pisses in his face,” he says. “It's an image that's been on our minds all day.”