RELAXED IS NOT A WORD you’d use much in relation to Radiohead, but the first gig of their three-night stand at London’s Roundhouse (Thursday, May 26) brought more onstage smiles and banter than entire Radiohead tours in the past. There was even a technical breakdown – derailing the intro of In Rainbows’ rapturous Nude – during which Thom Yorke mock-berated guitarist Jonny Greenwood: “Is it working now? You didn't notice, right? They call this showbusiness, darling." This could be partly a function of the venue. Yorke likes The Roundhouse, having played here, spectacularly, with his Atoms For Peace combo in 2013. It’s theatre-sized – intimate for one of art-rock’s few arena-sized bands. But one also senses, largely from the evidence of A Moon Shaped Pool, that Radiohead are in a new phase – not so much defined by Yorke’s boiling need to test musical genre definitions to destruction or by the singer’s wrath at the world and its iniquities.
“Burn The Witch is ironclad, The Numbers all swells and billows.”
Instead, Radiohead’s new songs bed into organic band grooves, augmented by string arrangements – or tonight, with no string section in sight, some samples and Jonny Greenwood on bowed electric guitar. They’re fine songs, linked by a soft, sad-eyed resignation that some have connected to Yorke’s 2015 divorce, but they carry little in the way of in-your-face baggage or the kind of intensity fans have come to expect, and they make up the first five songs and dominate the regular set.
We’re used to puzzling how Radiohead intend to transliterate their latest recordings for live consumption, whether that was OK Computer’s impulsive lurches between glacial balladry and prog gnarl or Kid A’s unimaginable fusion of rock and electronica, glitches and all. Tonight, results are mixed. Opener Burn The Witch is ironclad – just a great, great tune. The Numbers, with its echo of the “…and it makes me wonder” bit of Stairway To Heaven and hints of Charles Stepney psych-soul, is epic – all swells and billows. But Identikit falls flat; it doesn’t help that it follows one of the show’s tours de force – Separator, the best track from 2011’s The King Of Limbs. This magical number seems to not so much elapse as grow foliage, with bassist Colin Greenwood – perhaps Radiohead’s most underrated player – pushing and probing in his quizzical, soulful way, playing the spaces.
No alarms – not quite. But there are some pleasant surprises. Bends-era B-side Talk Show Host gets a rare run out. The King Of Limbs’ Morning Mr Magpie is unexpectedly great – building to a fierce, quasi-ravey peak. By and large, however, this Roundhouse show is about Radiohead’s re-emergence as a relatively conventional rock band, and some of its most striking performances are of that ilk: 2+2=5 and the reliable There, There from Hail To The Thief; splenetic, guitar-fetishising Bends opener Planet Telex.
This is conventional rock, of course, in the shape redefined by Radiohead themselves in the ’90s. The second and final encore ends – after two and a half hours of music – with Paranoid Android, an ageless reminder of all of Radiohead’s unique qualities: the power, seriousness and dynamism that make them, among many other things, heirs to the throne of The Who.
Radiohead are in an interesting place. As usual, it’s exciting to imagine where they’ll voyage next. “This is an adventure, you see,” Yorke tells the audience between a mental Myxomatosis and Reckoner’s riot of groovy hand percussion. May it please not end yet.
Burn The Witch Daydreaming Decks Dark Desert Island Disk Ful Stop Lotus Flower Talk Show Host My Iron Lung The Gloaming Exit Music (For A Film) Separator Identikit The Numbers Myxomatosis Reckoner Idioteque Everything In Its Right Place
Morning Mr. Magpie 2 + 2 = 5 Nude Planet Telex There, There
Present Tense You And Whose Army? Paranoid Android
PHOTO: Getty Images