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Sunday, 7 October 2012


It’s safe to say these are exciting times for Radiohead fans. Beginning with The King of Limbs, their eighth studio album nonchalantly announced and released in the space of a week in February 2011, the band are currently enjoying a productive purple patch, culminating last night in their first proper UK show for four years.

After casting off the shackles of traditional releases from 2007’s ground-breaking In Rainbows onwards, the band seem to have found a new lease of life, using their independence to release a string of material in the wake of the brilliant but somewhat brief TKOL album, as well as debuting a number of new songs live.

This influx of new material, including the double singles Supercollider/The Butcher and Staircase/The Daily Mail, and the unreleased Identikit, Cut A Hole and Skirting The Surface, has shown the UK’s passion for one of its most influential bands is a fervent as ever, with fever pitch reached this week with their first full UK tour since 2008.

While there may have been some grumblings about the fleeting length of the tour and the venues chosen, the tour’s first show last night at Manchester’s MEN Arena was everything the fans wanted, and more.

Those who were lucky enough to catch their secret gig at 2011’s Glastonbury aside, it was the first live outing for many TKOL songs in the UK, and they proved a revelation, finding their perfect home in the vast arena. Opener Lotus Flower effortlessly filled the open space, with punchy bass and entrancing drumming at its heart, it sounded truly anthemic and immediately set the tone for the whole evening.

Soon followed by Bloom, the swirling and offbeat album opener, the sweet and soaring Separator, and the frantic and intense Feral and Morning Mr Magpie, each demonstrated the extreme opposites that the album is made of and made for an exciting live show.

But, for me, the TKOL song that most demonstrated the perfect shift to the live arena was Give Up the Ghost, which was truly remarkable in the flesh. Coming as part of the second encore, with only Thom and Johnny onstage, loops of Thom’s vocals were built up, layering a rich, mesmerising sound that rang out and lingered long in the memory.

Other new material also included The Daily Mail, another high point, always surprising with its shift from falsetto ballad into rocking anthem, and brand new song Full Stop, which was musically similar to Jigsaw Falling into Place from In Rainbows, but a bit more distorted and synthy.

Radiohead’s epic Manchester gig on the In Rainbows tour of 2008 was probably the closest to a perfect gig I’ve ever seen, thanks to a perfectly balanced set list. Often painted as a difficult band who shun their biggest songs live, they did quite the opposite, playing a diverse and exciting set.

This was again the case last night, as the aforementioned new songs were surrounded and separated by an eclectic collection from their back catalogue. Airbag’s famous chords ripped through the room in only the second song, soon followed by the poles apart Myxomatosis and The Gloaming.

After These Are My Twisted Words, a free download from 2009, the mood was lulled with the hypnotic Pyramid Song and Nude, the beginning of a very well-received In Rainbows section also featuring a furious version of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and wonderful percussion on Reckoner.

As the first set drew to a close, the big guns were brought out, with There There, The National Anthem and Paranoid Android all increasing the volume and intensity, sending the crowd into rapture.

The first encore began with You and Whose Army?, before an ‘old, really old’ one according to Thom, Planet Telex being the only song from their first two albums to be played. The first encore ended with an atmospheric version of the always devastating How to Disappear Completely – the high point of the entire gig for me.

The second encore continued the brooding sound, with Give up the Ghost followed by a long and haunting version of Everything in its Right Place, which saw the band depart the stage at various stages, each receiving a standing ovation as they did. But that wasn’t it, and they all returned for a final fraught burst of Idioteque, leaving the crowd truly stunned as the house lights came on.

On top of the near perfect set list, the physical set was also outstanding, with a dozen screens that shifted, rotated, rose and lowered above the band to provide a glimpse at each member, while huge walls of LED lighting morphed from one colour to another, reflecting and adding to the moody, smoky atmosphere.

As for the band themselves, they are completely at ease on stage. The day before his 44th birthday – for which he was sung Happy Birthday by the audience - Thom was in a playful mood, joking around, introducing himself as Lady Gaga, and dancing like no one was watching.

The rest of the band, featuring touring second drummer Clive Deamer, were effortless. Coming and going when necessary, switching between instruments seamlessly, enjoying themselves immensely - they are all great to watch.

As the band approach the 20th anniversary of their debut album in February 2013, they remain, in many eyes, the UK’s most innovative and important band. On recent evidence, last night included, that shows no sign of changing.

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