Live Music + Gig Reviews

Radiohead @ Victoria Park, London

24 June 2008

RadioheadHackney’s Victoria Park is becoming something of a centre for music with a political conscience.

After last month’s Love Music, Hate Racism day festival, today played host to the first of two live extravaganzas by music industry renegades and much-loved oddballs Radiohead, rolling in to town with their carbon neutral tour ensemble.

Looking up at the enormous stage, flanked with giant speakers, clearly visible to each of the 40,000 courtesy of the vast curtain of neon light tubes pulsating maniacally through the rainbow spectrum, it was difficult to envision exactly how to ‘neutralise’ such an operation.

But these thoughts were fleeting as Radiohead took to the stage, the crunchy opening staccato of 15 Step, the opener from current album In Rainbows.

The first handful of tracks were drawn from In Rainbows and the bands’ first foray proper into electro, 2000’s Kid A. They launched straight in to Bodysnatchers as their second tune with no preamble, a laconism which became entirely familiar over the course of the two hours they played for.

The pace slowed for the ethereal funk of All I Need, setting the scene for the sneering, bass-heavy The National Anthem. The weird, haunting Nude swept around the enraptured crowd, having pirouetted its way into the consciousness of the hungover and teenaged via the advert for Channel 4’s Skins. The mesmerising fluorescent madness of the neon strips died down briefly for this beautiful interlude, and videos of the band in action flickered screens either side of the stage.

An hour into a set with no fillers and no pauses, the crowd were treated to the first flavour of wailing, guitar-laden Radiohead of old with The Bends’ Just, still sounding amazingly fresh and positively visceral, in spite of, perhaps because of, its jaunty Mark Ronson reworking. This inevitably worked the front rows into frenzy, prompting the first address of the evening from Thom Yorke to his audience: “What’s up with you mad fuckers down there then?”

Radiohead are a band that wear their ethics on their sleeve. Each returned cup to designated tents resulted in a 10p discount on the next pint – prompting resourceful pockets of bargain hunters scavenging empties from the ground. These overt ethics also triggered one of the rare band-audience interactions of the evening, a chant of Free Tibet that started with Thom and rippled out through the crowd, melting into the cascading synthesiser melodies of Everything In Its Right Place.

The lilting refrain of How To Disappear Completely hung in the air as the sun finally set, before the grungey guitars of OK Computer’s opener Airbag whipped the crowd and the chameleon neon lights up into an interstellar burst.

“Tonight I was fucking terrified,” was the last verbal offering from the stage. “Thank you for the good vibes. Those nights when everything’s crackling.”

The crackling continued with the frenetic rock of Bangers & Mash, released just before Christmas on the second CD of the In Rainbows box set.

The gentle piano-lead simplicity of Videotape opened the encore, providing one last moment of lighters-aloft stillness from the mesmerised audience. Another visit to Kid A finished the performance with the pulsating electronic chant of Idioteque. 40,000 people began to file away, across an unusually debris-free park. Everything in its right place.

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