There’s a super-buzzy atmosphere at Radiohead’s first London shows in four years. Almost too buzzy. Certainly at the back of the venue there’s a lot of chatter, even – especially – when Thom Yorke and co come on, but this can perhaps be put down to excitement and a desire on the part of fans to offer live commentary on this most forensically scrutinised of modern rock bands.
There’s plenty to discuss. With A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead have regained the avant-rock high ground just as it seemed they were in danger of becoming superannuated. It leaves them as arguably the last experimental mainstream band standing. They’re a band with as much of a future as a past, a fact cemented by their ninth studio album. A Moon… exudes the calm confidence of a band who have found a way through to the next 25 years of their career.
This might explain the light‑hearted tone Yorke, in particular, brings to his performance, which contrasts with Radiohead’s usual remoteness. He jokes, he instigates some audience hand-clapping, he dances frenetically – you might even say happily – to Idioteque. The little misanthrope appears to be enjoying himself.
Meanwhile, you could almost describe the setlist as designed to please, if not appease, with its generous smattering of classics, although it’s definitely weird to see such cold dissections of modern-day alienation as Airbag reduced to nostalgic fodder for a substantial part of the audience. There’s communal pleasure at music born of contemporary loathing and disgust. How odd.
Radiohead are emissaries of prog, like Pink Floyd were in the 70s. With Kid A they invented that whole substrata of electronic soul music purveyed by the likes of James Blake. Most enlivening are the new tracks, especially the uptempo ones such as Ful Stop, which essays a new genre – motorik ambient prog – forcing Yorke to shimmy with barely concealed delight across the stage.
There are possibly too few moments of ecstatic release such as this, and too many of what might be subsumed under the sobriquet ‘whiny balladry’. There are lulls, but also moments when Radiohead dive-bomb your consciousness. They really are trying to find new ways to keep rock interesting, and don’t seem bothered that people might want to use their music as a background to, variously, smooching, carousing and inane banter. Besides, it’s rare to hear so many singing along so lustily to such an unlikely lyric as tonight’s audience do to closing encore Karma Police.
As they obediently file out the door, they chant, ‘I lost myself,’ oblivious to the meaning. They’re even urged on by the singer, who seems to have found his true calling. Thom Yorke: party starter. Who knew?