One year on from their ninth full-length album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and 20 years on from the seminal ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead are back on tour again, stopping off in Manchester for their only UK (non-festival) date of 2017. Originally intended to be 2 gigs at the Manchester Arena, the concerts were combined into one at Emirates Old Trafford, a massive venue with a 50,000 capacity. Perhaps not the most natural of venues for a concert, but the band made it shine.
Before we got to the main act however, there were two support acts: cellist and previous Radiohead collaborator Oliver Coates (which was sadly missed by myself due to traffic) and Junun, the collaboration between Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express. While this isn’t the most obvious combination on paper, Junun is a fantastic marriage of Indian brass to guitars and drum machines and while I had the impression that it would have worked better as a more intimate indoor affair, the performance was fantastic, with particular highlights being the drum machine-heavy ‘Junun’ and ‘Roked’ which got the crowd moving, and they had won over some initially sceptical members of the crowd by the end of their set.
And then it was time for Radiohead, presenting us with a set full of surprises from the get-go, opening with ‘Let Down’ for quite possibly the first time ever, a demanding song that immediately proved the band is sounding just as good if not better than it did back in 1997 when the song was originally released. Within the first 4 songs we’d already heard a quarter of ‘OK Computer’, as well as the brilliant ‘Ful Stop’ from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, which I’d wager is one of their best live songs – it’s hugely intense.
The setlist was highly varied throughout, and while there were a lot of airings from ‘OK Computer’ and ‘In Rainbows’, every album bar ‘Pablo Honey’ was given at least two songs in the setlist, with some of the deep cut highlights of the main set being ‘All I Need’, ‘You And Whose Army?’ and the blisteringly political ‘Myxomatosis’ – there was a distinctly political overtone to the whole set, most obviously coming to a fore when the crowd broke into the now ubiquitous ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant after ‘No Surprises’, a song that included one of the most explosively sang along to lines of the whole night:
‘You look so tired, unhappy
Bring down the government
They don’t, they don’t speak for us’
By the middle of the main set, the crowd were fully invested, particularly after an amazingly manic performance of ‘Idioteque’, a classic Radiohead live moment that only seems to have become more frantic as the years have gone on – the sirens and screeches at the song’s climax were equal parts hypnotic and terrifying. ‘Bodysnatchers’ and ‘2 + 2 = 5’ rounded out the set, leaving the audience hungry for more, and more they certainly got.
Usual show opener ‘Daydreaming’ opened the first encore, and while this is an immensely difficult song to place in any setlist due to its unusual style compared to the rest of the band’s catalogue, it was a beautiful performance. ‘Nude’ and ‘Lotus Flower’ brought us into an incredible one-two punch at the end of the encore: ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, which became the biggest hits with the crowd up to that point. If there’s something that you can guarantee at a Radiohead concert, it’s that the band doesn’t take their own music lightly – they pour every ounce of their emotions into each song, and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ is a genuinely heartbreaking moment.
A second, extra-long encore was then performed to an insatiable crowd, and this is where we got some serious surprises indeed. Live hit ‘There There’ was followed by ‘I Promise’, a song the band have now played a mere three times since 1996, and while this wasn’t a song the majority of the crowd knew as intimately as the hits (it was only officially released last month on the 20th anniversary rerelease of ‘OK Computer’ – ‘OKNOTOK’), it was a poignant moment and again proved that Thom can still hit those highs he was hitting in the mid-90s with ease.
Speaking of the mid-90s, what came next was astounding. ‘Please sing along, because I’ll probably forget the first verse’ is among the most exciting things a Radiohead fan can hear at a concert, because you know something really old, and most certainly special is coming – this time it was a now-rarely performed ‘The Bends’, and for a brief moment it was like the band were 20 years younger, showing that raucous attitude they had when they were first starting out. Finishing the show was ‘Karma Police’, which left the crowd singing endlessly afterwards, all the way to the tram stations you could hear ‘For a minute there I lost myself’ being belted out by swathes of people. Truly magical.
Radiohead have become one of the most beloved and iconic bands in the UK, and while the quieter songs got lost a little on the speaker system at the cricket ground, the atmosphere was there to drink in if you made the effort to drown out the sound of the crowd. The band played a set that was simultaneously crowd-pleasing and fan-servicing, with the perfect balance between well-loved hits and rarities, as well as being the first 26-song set the band have played since 2009. If there’s one band you need to see before it’s too late, it’s Radiohead.