Thom and co find their festival feet after a shaky start
Now this could go either way. Radiohead are the band of two halves: for their stadium noir rock years they dolloped out brooding, standard-setting Krakatoa classics – among the best ever written. But for their Electronic Ennui years they’ve downloaded occasionally inspiring, largely tuneless and dreary ‘sound experiments’ that suggest they set a laptop to Wibble And Wail-setting in 1999, then went down the pub for seven years. Now, after a blip-heavy theatre tour, they arrive at V promising ‘hits’, which could be ‘The Bends’ in its entirety, or every 10th song actually having a chorus.
Unable to completely drop their obstreperous musical adventurism and just bash out the big bangers, they find themselves making an awkward headline-set compromise. From a band who’ve so dramatically somersaulted between genres, any festival set will seem disjointed, but for the first hour Radiohead struggle with their own historical demons. Between classics (‘Airbag’, ‘My Iron Lung’, ‘No Surprises’, ‘The Bends’) that too often whimper when they should bang, we get stark electronica with aimless wailing instead of a tune (‘2+2=5’ and ‘The Gloaming’, with Thom doing a Peter Crouch-on-PCP ‘dance’); the odd bit of jazzy moaning (‘Nude’); a one-chord drone through ‘The National Anthem’ that sounds like Primal Scream tuning up; and ‘Pyramid Song’, during which 20 suicides are reported in the front row. And, at what point do you get so far up your own ego’s arse that you think, “I know! I’ll play a lacklustre acoustic mumble with a mild bit of semi-rocking at the end called ‘You And Whose Army?’ and not play ‘Creep’ and everyone will love it”? Big props, though, to the bloke at the front who, when Thom announces “our third new song”, optimistically shouts “Wun-two-free-fowar!” Thom, surprisingly, doesn’t find it funny.
Then, through a cloud-busting ‘Lucky’, the stadium-rock god genes embedded in Radiohead’s spinal stem kick in, and for 30 minutes we’re in hedonism heaven. An exhilarating ‘Idioteque’ – proof, as is the encore’s ‘There There’, that, when Radiohead’s genre-splicing experimentalism works, it verges on the revolutionary follows the mighty pop-kick of ‘Just’, while ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ soars and sizzles like a plane full of snakes. ‘Karma Police’ wipes clean all the bewilderment over Thom’s wild punk rantings during ‘A Wolf At The Door’ and then, oh yes, they do ‘Creep’. And, knowing which side their bread is buttered, they do it joyously.
An obstinately abstruse first hour gives way to the Greatest Hits In The Sky: a triumph of crowd-pleasing over crowd-teasing. Hail to the creep.