The last few shows of the OK Computer tour and Radiohead admit to feeling rather jolly.
“Radiohead request no mashing or surfing,” reads the instruction on the notices around the entrance to the Max Bell Centre on April 8, a scruffy ice hockey stadium on Calgary, Canada’s outer ring and home to the less than legendary Canucks.
“Thom worries desperarte1y about the audience. He gets distracted by it a lot,” explains ultra-affable guitarist Ed O’Brien. A couple of nights before, in Vancouver, they had to stop proceedings until things calmed down a bit. Damping your fans’ fervour might seem a peculiar method of celebrating your hard-won success, but it’s obviously the Radiohead way.
Shelves of awards and almost universal acclaim for OK Computer with matching sales now too – one million US copies (platinum) and 200,000 in Canada (double platinum) – have pushed Oxford’s finest to within spitting distance of rock’s exalted summit. This 13-date North American tour, culminating in two nights at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, is part triumphal march, part final fling for the whole project. Every venue sold out weeks ago: some, like Seattle, in a matter of minutes. Yet rather than touring themselves to death this summer to cement their new standing, they’re taking the next six months off. Only a long-mooted TV documentary and an off-mooted collaboration with Massive Attack will help to fan the flames for the next year at least.
“There’s a certain amount of having become bored with the songs,” admits Ed. “Having spent year recording, then three months learning to play them live properly, including fucking up in front of people like at Glastonbury, it’s very much the completion of this particular cycle.”
A certain end-of-term atmosphere is indeed detectable in the ranks. The fivesome even get to play the role of leisurely tourists around this most unprepossessing of cities; moseying around shopping malls, catching an afternoon movie, hunting down some old vinyl (Colin ‘s haul today embraces both The Dells and Johnny Cash) and, on the way to the afternoon’s soundcheck, engaging in light banter.
“We’re never going to be an upbeat pop combo but there’s definitely a lighter side to us now and our shows are the better for it,” reckons Ed. “Thom said a really good thing: It’s got to be like a hobby, just like when we started out twelve years ago at school.”
Collecting stamps was never like this. From the twists and turns of Airbag, the band power through 100 minutes with an attention to detail and dynamics that was supposed to be out of fashion. Looking and sounding like a shell-shocked waif, Yorke is the obvious magnetic centre; a study in tightly-coiled calm, interspersed with moments of fizzing activity as if someone just plugged him into the mains. Not that he could do it on his own, of course.
“A brilliant show, one to tell the grandkids,” purrs the following day’s Calgary Sun. Quite so and no broken bones either.