James Ball took his place among the crowd to see Radiohead breathe further life into ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ live at London’s Roundhouse on May 28. But how did the band’s surprise new material stack up next to their towering back catalogue?
When Radiohead took to the stage at the Roundhouse, bang on time at 8:30pm, for the third, and currently final, UK show of their A Moon Shaped Pool tour, it already felt like a special evening for the fortunate few who’d clamoured for tickets and won.
Thom Yorke and company took to the stage and blasted out the first half of the new album in order, with the crowd listening intently. Some sang along, but most just soaked up the music, feeling every chord, every drum beat and processing every lyric. Burn The Witch was darker than Vantablack and more sinister than every Hitchcock thriller combined, especially when Jonny Greenwood started thrashing at his guitar with a cello bow like he was sawing it in half. Daydreaming, Decks Dark, Desert Island Disk and Ful Stop (sic) all followed with polite intrigue as the band played in front of an impressive wall of mirrors, a train track-like lighting rig and video wall. This show looked and sounded the part.
Radiohead try to make every show unique, so everyone in attendance knew that what happened from song six on was a lottery. Cue two songs that are now approaching, or over, 20 years old and still sounding as fresh as they day they were written in Lucky and Talk Show Host, the latter benefitting from an extended outro which would tire out younger rock groups of today. One of the biggest cheers of the night came for ‘Amnesiac’ highlight Like Spinning Plates, a song played only occasionally and not at all on this tour as yet. Gone was the complicated looping reverse of I Will – later featured in a reworked version on ‘Hail to the Thief’ – with the simple act of Yorke delicately and mournfully brushing piano keys bringing out the emotive sustenance of the piece. His fragile falsetto lit up the hushed arena to create a real moment.
The Gloaming, Everything in its Right Place and Idioteque seemed at first glance like an odd trio to close off the main portion of the show, but when the former evoked Yorke’s infamous dance large portions of the crowd really started to move. Everything in its Right Place became another huge singalong which, again during its second half, picked up the drama to become a much more savage beast than its album version. Idioteque, basically, let the dogs out: looping beats, heavy electric drums, layer upon layer upon layer all stuffed into one high-energy performance and compounded by a frenetic light and video show. Bodysnatchers closed the main set with about as hard a straight up rock song as Radiohead have written in recent memory, sending the crowd into a frenzy before plunging them into darkness.
Up to this point the band had not been particularly chatty, bar the occasional “thank you” between songs. But during Give Up The Ghost Yorke attempted to loop the “Don’t haunt me” hook, catching an overexcited fan whooping like Ric Flair on helium and creating a perfect every-four-beat noise that he immediately picked up on and laughed his way through. The crowd quickly caught on and started to lose it every time it appeared. Yorke then lost control of the song, joking his way around it. It’s in moments like this that we are able to see Radiohead as human beings who like to have fun, and for whom silly things can go wrong too. The song was eventually aborted, but it was all taken in good humour.
A second encore, featuring the first uninterrupted version of Nude of the tour and ‘OK Computer’ powerhouse Paranoid Android, left this sold-out venue a very, very satisfied place. It is difficult to tell which tracks from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ could form part of Radiohead’s long-term tour plans at this stage, since they don’t play “singles” in the same way as other bands, but on this evidence many will remain in the running for some time. This band could play almost any song from almost any album at almost any time and have them fit seamlessly into place, such is the level of variety in their writing. We’re lucky to have them.
– James Ball