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REVIEW: Radiohead

Earls Court, November 27th 2003

Not being there at the right time. That’s a potent fear that’s stalked my life for many years. The fear of missing it. Of not being there at the party of the year, not having got a suntan in the hottest summer of the Century, not having visited that hidden hotspot before it got popular.

Which is why I found the experience of being there to hear Radiohead on Thursday night so profoundly satisfying. Everything Was In Its Right Place.

Treena and I turned up at Earls Court pretty early and strolled into a quarter-filled arena during the middle of Asian Dub Foundation’s excellent opening set. We sauntered towards the front. All very civilized.

Radiohead audiences are pretty well-behaved. They’re mostly earnest young men in their early 20s. They’re probably middle-class and a bit bookish and they’re not going to mosh to violently. Most of them looked a little non-plussed by ADF’s bouncing firecracker of a performance. It was fiercely political in a blunt, unapologetic way that Thom Yorke’s strangled subtle poetry never is.

But even if, like me, you admired ADF’s boisterous political bounce, the evening was all about music not messages. And musically, Radiohead do the do.

And after a 20 minute reset, where the crowd filled up and some rather comic reggae music lulled us all, the lights cuts out and the Music began.

Having positioned ourselves carefully to avoid a clutch of tall people, all positoning was swept away as the crowd surged forward with the first thrilling triple drums of “There There” and I surrendered myself to the potent tide of concerted flesh that is moshing.

Moshing is such a uniquely liberated experience. You stop worrying about standing still and holding your place and relax into a surging mass of bodies. As long as your feet are untangled it’s pretty much impossible to fall over, so you just surge and sing, bounce and wave your arms. It’s all rather amniotic. Especially since you’re suddenly in a loved-up scenario where it’s perfectly acceptable to hang onto the male strangers all around you and – like an early night on E – and you find yourself screaming love at the stage and feeling part of a deep, sweaty tribe.

And the show had us all in its grip from the first moment. “There There” powered on into “2+2=5” into the slightly psycho energy of “Sit Down” with its oddly unsettling refrain: “The raindrops”… and then on and on for another 2 and half bountiful hours.

Thom Yorke, the happiest I’ve ever seen him, sang his awkwardly-formed heart out.

They did most of the material on the new album and a scattering of greats from the past and they never lost the hypnotic rabbit-in-headlight focus for one moment.

I’ve lived these songs all through my 20s and 30s. They’ve been intimately woven into my flesh through various high-octane romances and heartbreaks. To hear them all, sung for me, by Thom and the boys seemed almost unfairly perfect.

Moshing at the front, I surrendered myself entirely to the musical ebbs and flows of the night. Singing along at top-lung to “Lucky” and “Creep” and “The Bends” but also sucked up into the sweetness of “Sail to the Moon”, “Exit Music” and “How to Disappear Completely”.

There’s something weird about Radiohead’s music. Each album I bought was definitely a “grower”. They seem to get in under your skin and into your bloodstream like something organic. It’s those weird soundscapes, where you can’t quite work out what instrument is making what sound . There’s the famous guitar clunk in “Creep”, the celloey opening to “Airbag”, the aural universes of Kid A.

But I was aware that I didn’t really know all the words. I really learnt this music by its sounds not by its texts. At home afterwards I started to look at the words to “Lucky”:

“Pull me out of the aircrash

Pull me out of the lake

Cos I’m your superhero

And we’re standing on the edge.”

I wish I had known that I was singing the line: “It’s going to be a glorious day.” I would have cried some more. When you are aware of the lyrics the song become almost unbearably poignant. That wounded, glorious sense of fragility and beauty.

Though there was nothing fragile about the show on Thursday. I saw the band about 5 years ago in Hamburg where they were good but not this good. Then they had stood in gloomy introspection on a largely gloomy stage. This time the stage was illuminated with the most spectacularly accurate lighting display I have ever seen. It wasn’t too fancy… just vertical bars of light, but it responded to the music with pinpoint accuracy and amplified the impact of every chorus, every key-change, every crescendo. The big crunch moment of “Creep” was syncopated with blinding white light that nearly ripped out our happy retinas.

And the band were so happy to be up there singing and playing for us. They were good and they knew it. Jonny the God Greenwood even looked up from under his fringe and grinned. Handsome Ed sang along even when he didn’t have a mike and Thom, Thom danced around like a loon and grinned like a wicked kid.

And after endless encores – at least 8 – we were left grinning too as one by one the band bowed and left the stage, only the crazy electronic gooning of “Everything in Its Right Place” bleeping away and the words LOVE FOREVER flowing across the vertical bars of light.

The house lights came back on and we were bathed in the glory of knowing that we had been there at one of the greatest concerts and no one could take that away from us. Everything was In Its Right Place. And we had been lucky. It was, after all, going to be a glorious day.

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