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Songs of devotion
by Jerry Thackray



FACT BOX
who radiohead what’s it all about US tour
where chicago, Illinois, before moving to st louis
when aug 7 how many 1,200 (est) cost $25 (est)

Radiohead
Riviera Theatre, Chicago

IT’S ODD, seeing Radiohead play in such (relatively) cramped surrounds, in this gorgeous early 20th century American theatre. From where we’re standing, side of stage, it looks like they set in the vestibule of a chapel, dry ice and sweeping purple and white lights taking the place of incense and candles. The crowd is suitably crushed and devotional: surging forward for such favourites as ‘Planet Telex’ and ‘Street Spirit’, eerily silent during the almost unbearably pure ‘No Surprises’ and quieter moments of ‘Paranoid Android’. Radiohead may not yet command the megastar status over here that they enjoy in the UK, but it’s close.
Already, people talk of them in the same reverential whispers they once afforded Nirvana. Backstage, support band Teenage Fanclub talk of little else; how similar Thom is to Kurt (the Fannies supported Nirvana in the past); how there’s a groundswell show of support for Radiohead in the US, reminiscent of that which once surrounded Nirvana, which has little to do with ‘the industry’. Not that Radiohead seem over-awed by their new-found celebrity status. Offstage, they’re friendly, relaxed and charming. All except for Thom Yorke, who seems to be anticipating his soon-to-be-conferred status as THE ‘90s Rock Enigma – the new Michael Stipe – with relish. Live, he’s downright bloody-minded, leading his band back onstage for the first of several hard-won encores, but obstinately refusing to play ‘Creep’. Again, Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub is quick to point out the parallels with ‘Teen Spirit’ (a song Kurt grew to detest).
Make no mistake, ‘OK Computer’ should have won the Mercury Music Prize, not the admirable Roni Size. For, with ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead managed to reinvest their music with a freshness and vision that has all but disappeared from rock. On first listen, comeback single ‘Paranoid Android’ sounded TOO MUCH, a throwback to ‘70s progressive rock. But, live, it’s staggering, Thom singing “Rain down/Rain down” in that choirboy quaver of his, before Jonny makes like Brian May on his wah-wah and the whole world comes crashing down. Likewise, other songs from the album – a spooky ‘Exit Music’, a tumultuous ‘Airbag’, a crazed, carping ‘Karma Police’ – linger in the air and in our minds long after their last notes have been sounded.
In Chicago, even numbers from the ‘Head’s overrated second album ‘The Bends’ (too much of the bombast of mid-period Simple Minds) sound magnificently soulful. ‘High And Dry’ resonates with pathos. How Radiohead changed from being a run-of-the-mill indie band into rock saviours so smoothly is almost beyond belief, but there are an awful lot of people out here who are glad that they did. An awful lot.