In our recent interview with Silver Jews front man David Berman, he described festivals as a form of mass date-rape, where you get a load of willing victims into a field and rob them of what they think they hold dear. He also directed a few comments towards Radiohead, so while I stood for hours in a queue for beer in Victoria Park for the first night of the Radiohead extravaganza, my thoughts turned towards Berman's comments and what he might make of this. The band had turned Victoria Park into their own festival and it was huge. Swarms of people queued for food and drink, Berman would have puked. When the band started up, my intentions of getting near to the front were seriously downgraded so I had to settle for 80 meters back catching a fleeting glimpse of the pin prick on the horizon that I presumed was Thom Yorke.
So the venue was way too big, there were way too many dickheads in the crowd who had clearly come to chat to one-another rather than watch the show and I was way too far away for my liking. But, the music was sensational. I realised that night that Radiohead's music needs to be heard under an open sky. In this context it doesn't matter where you are standing as simply turning your gaze skyward releases this music into infinity where it belongs. It was such a still night and the sound drifted across to me perfectly. Set-wise it was a different story to the Hammersmith gig in 2006, with pretty much all of In Rainbows getting a thorough airing along with many choice morsels from Kid Amnesiac. Hail To The Thief was severely neglected with only There There representing and when any of the older songs cropped up they were not your usual choices. But this was the story of the night for me. I've heard Karma Police, Paranoid Android, The Bends and Fake Plastic Trees countless times live, but tonight it was a case of rediscovering under appreciated gems. Jonny Greenwood excelled himself on many occasions but his layered sampling on Climbing Up The Walls was truly stunning and coupled with Yorke's hauntingly lazy vocals this emerged as a surprising high point.
With each Radiohead gig I attend, I crave less and less these old favorites as the new songs - whether released or not - are so fresh and live. In Rainbows doubled in size under this still night sky with songs like Reckoner, Jigsaw and the chilling atmospherics of Videotape beaming up into the air with euphoric majesty. As Yorke retreated to the second drum kit for Bangers & Mash, Jonny Greenwood was left unattended up the front - an opportunity he seized with both hands providing a seriously fucked up, twisted version of this already raw track with avant guard screeches darting from his contorted guitar like a modern-day Coltrane. The whole evening was brought to an all too early close with one of the best moments of the night. The two big screens that flanked the stage displayed some multi angle camera work split into 4 sections, but as the opening chords of You And Who's Army? crept into view the whole screen was filled with a huge Yorke eye as he stretched up to pear into the lens. This minimal song with it's weary vocals accompanied by this all-seeing eye was mesmerising and as it gave way to the frenetic beats of Idioteque the night was complete.
Outdoor gigs always take shape as night falls and never has this been more true than here. As Yorke emerged after the encore and played a stripped down piano version of The Eraser's Cymbal Rush you could have heard a pin drop out there in that park. The shear size of the venue occasionally diluted the experience, as it's hard to feel connected to a band when you're so far away - but for a long term fan like myself to be reintroduced to songs I know so well is a treat and an unexpected delight. This band have all bases covered, from the light show to the live video art that attempts to do way more than simply show the people at the back what's going on. I would have to disagree with Mr. Berman, as on leaving the park I was buoyant with having been in the presence of greatness and though I strained to see anything and queued for an eternity in my own personal headspace I was flying.