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Getting Away With Murder: Radiohead Live At The O2

Frustrating, infuriating, and undeniably challenging, Radiohead are living the dream – playing whatever they want, however they want, and being met with nothing but warmth.

Thursday, 29. November 2012  -  by  David Hayter

There’s no two ways about it; other artists must hate Radiohead. The legendary Oxfordshire outfit have changed their sound beyond recognition, forgoing melody to indulge their every sonic whim. Live they kick the hits to the kerb, playing challenging setlists built on thematic cohesion rather than fan friendly concessions - oddly, not only do sold out audiences tolerate their experimentation, they wholeheartedly embrace it.

A strange state of affairs indeed, even a band as big and beloved as The Rolling Stones, or a star as revered as Paul McCartney, would struggle to hold an audience’s attention for two minutes, let alone two hours, with B-sides and album cuts. For an up and coming arena filler the Radiohead approach would be tantamount to career suicide. Regardless, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and company continue to live the dream; delving into their back catalogue and pulling out songs that will compliment their latest release and their current mood.

The adoration of an already doting audience is hardly the arbiter of success. The Radiohead of OK Computer and In Rainbows have produced brilliant, boisterous headline sets at festivals the world over, but can the skittish and meek sounds of The King Of Limbs triumph in a cavernous arena?

They’ve certainly had plenty of practice. A year on from the mixed reviews and audience outrage that greeted the start of The King Of Limbs tour in the US, the band have honed these awkward little ditties into bruising, schizophrenic stadium fillers. The idea that Radiohead have “ditched their guitars” is proved laughably false. As the band dive into an electronic onslaught of analogue bass and slippery yet stiff percussion, Jonny Greenwood’s guitar may be used sparingly, but to devastating effect. As the pounding, unnerving beats begin to gather pace an unholy scrape or giant crashing clang erupts from the side of the stage. The mood is altered in an instant, the rhythmic turns menacing, an element of danger is introduced, and the entire audience is on edge.

Photo by Chris Boland

Sound quality is clearly of paramount importance to Radiohead who have made the ghostly insular “Lotus Flower” and “Bloom” sound positively tyrannical. “Myxomatosis” booms and crashes, its wormy synths bludgeon the audience, filling every crevice and obliterating silence. Bizarrely, Radiohead have no problem incorporating the guitar workouts of old. “Airbag” soars at the outset and is quickly joined by the vicious snatched riffage of “Bodysnatchers” – which, believe it or not, segues into “The Gloaming”. Radiohead have transformed their most difficult work. The big bassy, wholly inorganic slabs of alienating sound are brought to life by as many as four drummers, pounding out conflicting, enlivening rhythms.

The sheer intricacies and terror of these warped sounds might hold the audience’s attention, but every great arena show needs its show stealing set pieces – and Radiohead are happy to oblige. “Nude” simply has to be heard live, ethereal, mellifluous and utterly haunting, Thom’s vocal is sublime, as his formless coos rise so do the lights, drawing a bellowing roar of approval. Bouncing along to “Just” and singing back “Karma Police” can be thrilling, but feeling the delicate tones of “Nude” swirl around a wide-open space is an otherworldly experience of the highest order.

Radiohead can’t quite bring it all together. “Nude” aside, the ballads struggle, sounding thin and undeveloped next to the wall of sound that inevitably precedes them. Thankfully, by the set’s mid way point the band are in full flight jumping from a string of In Rainbows favourites to the frenetic bass barrage of “The National Anthem” and “There There’s” crowd pleasing polyrhythms. “Paranoid Android” provides the main set’s rapturous finale - as scathing and totemic as you remember it.

With the audience fully onside, Radiohead remind the world that they used to be a rock band with the rolling licks of “I Might Be Wrong” and intergalactic rock of “Planet Telex” before unveiling the night’s big surprise. The ascending riff of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” slithers from Jonny Greenwood’s guitar and the arena, who have patiently observed, are united in song. Yorke, who appears overcome by the vociferous response, busts out his gangly dance moves one last time as the band bound on stage (yes stoic Radiohead actually bounce as they run) to deliver the customary set closers “Everything In Its Right Place” and “Idioteque”.

Pedals are punched and knobs are furiously twiddled as these two unsettling yet oddly danceable anthems screech and skip into life. Kid A’s finest moments never sound the same twice, refusing to settle, they are next to impossible to reproduce live, and yet they are bizarrely magnificent – uncopiable, paradoxical and infuriating, just like Radiohead.

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