We Are Kings
Radiohead with Caribou
The O2, London
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
The O2, eh? The dwelling formerly known as the Millennium Dome and (for a brief Olympics-related period, the 'North Greenwich Arena') sure feels a long way from the sponsor-free, tented shows that Radiohead played sometime around the releases of OK Computer and Kid A – or even the athletics stadium that they commandeered in Edinburgh during the summer of 2006, where this writer first saw them.
However, it proves to be a surprisingly fitting venue for one of alternative music's best-loved bands, as they unite fans including Emmy-winning Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, Example, Professor Green - and a rather angry bloke who chose to spite his presumably now ex-girlfriend by trying to sell her ticket on Gumtree – with a spellbinding show.
(Caribou performing 'Odessa' at Monday night's O2 show)
It comes as no surprise whatsoever that Caribou are fitting openers. They acquit themselves well within a short time limit, although the relentless, discordant beats of 'Odessa' would have perhaps made a better closer than a version of 'Sun' that meanders way too much. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that their popularity could, over time, swell to the point where they're headlining this cavernous dome in their own right.
After what feels like the longest half hour in recorded history, Radiohead take to the stage with something new ('Lotus Flower') and something old ('Airbag'). The following two hours or so lean more towards The King of Limbs' intimidating, towering electronica than the band's more familiar, more formulaic old classics. However, such is the spectacle that they can be forgiven the omission of tracks such as 'Just', 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place', 'Karma Police', 'Pyramid Song' and even '2+2=5' and 'Faust Arp' (two personal favourites).
As always at Radiohead shows, the audience is enthusiastic, but never becomes boisterous. It's entirely possible that the band themselves control this through set structure, flitting from all-out floorfillers to ethereal slow numbers and back again. In turn, the band themselves seem enthusiastic, with a ponytailed, bearded Thom Yorke allowing himself a grin or two (and a yelp of 'Fucker!' just before the shouty bit of 'Paranoid Android' that cracks the crowd up). The backdrop is simple, yet effective – a wall of coloured lights and screens used practically (giving the vertically challenged among us in standing a great view of the band at work) and to accentuate mood (used to greatest effect during 'Paranoid Android').
The sound quality throughout is beyond compare. The tracks from In Rainbows sound especially good, and the contented, collective "Aaaah!" that greets 'Videotape' and 'Nude' - back to back in majestic harmony - is euphoric. 'Give Up the Ghost', opening the first encore, is absolutely beautiful, and hushes most of the sold-out crowd to reverential singing and humming along.
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The slower numbers also show that Yorke's voice has matured beautifully with the passage of time. A lot of the nasal harshness of days of yore is gone, but his yearning, raw emotion and expression is still there. You'd know it was him with your eyes closed in seconds, for sure.
Two of the biggest surprises come in the encore – the first (well, kind of a surprise) is 'Planet Telex', which the band also gave an airing at the Manchester Arena a few days earlier. It may come from a different era and place musically and lyrically to their later material, but the effect is the same – meandering melodies and perfectly placed mood shifts showing that the band have always been terrific songwriters.
The second welcome surprise is a burst of 'True Love Waits' ahead of 'Everything In Its Right Place', which, as people start to scatter in an attempt to beat the underground queues, transforms into an all-too-short rendition of 'Idioteque'. Never before have so many turned round and run back into an arena so quickly. (Probably).
You could tie yourself in ethical knots as a band who profess to be so different from the norm - so removed from the mainstream - deliver a flawless arena show that ticks all the 'Big Event' bingo card boxes (including an equally spectacular ticket price). Or, you know what? You could just enjoy it for what it was – an near-impeccable evening's entertainment.
words: Kate Goodacre