25 June 2008


Victoria Park, E9
24 June 2008

Last night East London received an alien visitation from the Oxfordian gods of the space-rock pantheon, as Radiohead played a million pound concert to approximately 20,000 revellers on a mild but blissfully clear June evening.  

Victoria Park hosted the Love Music Hate Racism concert recently, and perhaps its open vistas are more suited to the diffused spectacle of a multi-stage music festival than to highlighting the individual brilliance of one group.  But it allowed a huge crowd to gather to see one of the most inventive and creative rock bands of the past two decades perform new material with a scattering of highlights from the height of their '90s popularity.   

The newer material from In Rainbows, the album released in 'honesty-box' download form on the net, stalked and stuttered in a storm of bleeping beats and jagged guitars, and showed why Radiohead are consistently regarded as musical innovators, reluctant to rest on their laurels.  This truly sounded like music made for the 21st century, and reminded the audience why the band is leagues ahead of the many that follow in their wake, scavenging the scraps of fame that Thom Yorke and his colleagues willingly eschewed.

In this material the superb light show came into its own.  Five massive square screens formed a narrow rectangular strip of colour at the rear of the stage, and a matching pair of four screens arranged in a square on each stage wing all relayed an expertly-mixed blend of live stage footage and a giant strobing graphic equaliser mash-up.  But the real highlight was the forest of dozens of thin tubes hanging from the roof of the stage, forming a gleaming cage of light over the performers.  The tubes effectively formed a 10-metre high canvas of light across the entire width of the stage, pulsating and gyrating with rich colours and patterns.

I freely admit that my devotion to Radiohead was at its strongest at the time of OK Computer in 1997, and although I was impressed by Kid A my attention wandered elsewhere in later years.  But in performing some of their older material Radiohead reminded the crowd why they are master songwriters and performers.  As the Guardian review says: 'when Just, from breakthrough album The Bends, comes along, people react to it with the fevered desperation of a dog that's been locked in a kennel for a week, howling, jumping and dancing with glee'.  It's a fantastic performance of a signature track, and the kicking guitar in the outro is, if anything, even more thrillingly violent than on the album.  The brooding Everything In Its Right Place builds its menace gradually until it dominates the park with its dark, nonsense psychosis and rhythmic dancefloor repetition.  Most beautiful of all, the swooping crescendoes of The Tourist allow Thom Yorke's ethereal vocal power and the band's loping chords to spread over the audience.  And in the second encore, the quiet-loud authority of You And Whose Army? is received with something approaching a rapturous response.  Well, from me, anyway.  

All that remained at the close was to make the dash to Mile End tube to beat the crush attempting to return to London.  Those at Victoria Park had witnessed a remarkable performance from a band still at the top of their game. 

(Earlier, support act Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, also impressed with her delicate and deftly-handled songs, channelling Bjork and Tori Amos to good effect.  An artist worth following up.)

Radiohead setlist from Efestivals.co.uk:
01 15 Step
02 Bodysnatchers
03 All I Need
04 The National Anthem
05 Pyramid Song
06 Nude
07 Arpeggi
08 The Gloaming
09 Dollars and Cents
10 Faust Arp
11 There There
12 Just
13 Climbing Up The Walls
14 Reckoner
15 Everything In Its Right Place
16 How To Disappear Completely
17 Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Encore 1:

18 Videotape
19 Airbag
20 Bangers 'n Mash
21 Planet Telex
22 The Tourist

Encore 2:

23 Cymbal Rush
24 You And Whose Army?
25 Idioteque

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