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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
Burger

RADIOHEAD
Victoria Park, London, Wednesday 25th June, 2008

 

We’re down in the East End in London’s famous Victoria Park, over 200 acres of Victorian green space feeding the lungs of this traditionally working-class district of the metropolis. Given that the site of the 2012 Olympics isn’t far away, old Vicky Park has its part to play, having been chosen to host the Games’ Global Gourmet Village, one of the major attractions that is expected to cause thousands of visitors to flock to this otherwise neglected area. And you would expect so too, wouldn’t you? Nearby you can find some of the most traditional, and some would say distinguished, cuisine in the capital. But of course, the Olympiad is about London now, so the Gourmet Village, of which we’re privileged tonight to be some of the first patrons, really reflects what’s best about eating in London today.
Gourmet Village
It’s a showcase for the city that can boast Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, Giorgio Locatelli, Richard Corrigan and Tom Aikens. And I suspect that is why there is a large and garrulous group of French guys (not seen in these parts since 1066 or thereabouts) behind us, apparently on a gourmet pilgrimage to this very epicentre of epicurean excellence. Or maybe they’ve come to see Radiohead.
In case you don’t know, Radiohead, as we see it from this side of the Atlantic, are “one of the biggest rock bands in the world”. They’re massive. And there are around twenty thousand people here (that’s about the capacity of London’s ghastly O2 arena) who would confirm that. I couldn’t say really – I’m bound to have a copy of their ground-breaking OK Computer album somewhere and as a matter of due diligence just prior to this gig bought the new In Rainbows (apparently their most accessible album in years, and which you could download for whatever price you cared to pay). But for all their overpowering omnipresence, they haven’t really registered with me. Of course I know about the media-friendly tousle-haired and perennially unshaven lead singer Thom Yorke, who speaks fluently and often sensibly on a range of ‘Green’ issues, but that’s about it. I can promise you that my copy of In Rainbows will be for sale in the local charity shop before Christmas. So why am I here? Well it’s not for the grub. Mainly I’m fulfilling a Christmas promise, the recipient of which has rushed to the front of the stage in a state of unbridled frenzy. But I’m also here to tell you what “one of the biggest rock bands in the world” sounds like.
Radiohead
The joke is that we’re standing so far back from the stage that the band have finished every song before we hear the start of it. Mildly funny, but not true. The sound quality is remarkable, well mixed and balanced, with a crystal clarity, only occasionally being blown away in the breeze of what turns out to be a chilly evening. Lucky for us there’s some bloke with a tea urn nearby, so in a tribute to rock and roll excess we sip milky builder’s tea as Radiohead go through their paces. Let me summarise the gig (you can get all the details here). In almost two-and-a-half hours they played twenty-five songs – and I was surprised (not knowing any better) at how well these were structured (even the most apparently unstructured) and how tightly they were performed. Forty per cent came from In Rainbows – actually they played the whole lot – and 16% each from Kid A and OK Computer, perhaps their best- known works. Yorke does have the most unusual voice, which can range from positively tuneless to positively captivating – he was working hard, singing around 3,716 words, which is 9% more than usual. Oh yes, in case you were wondering, the very effective stage lighting (an LED system), used 140A 3phase compared with the 600A 3phase system they used on their last tour. And Thom Yorke was wearing striking red trousers, more suited to a regatta than a rock concert, but at least it meant that we could see him in the distance. The final song was Paranoid Abdroid. Need to know any more?
I did wonder how many minor chords innovative guitarist Johnny Greenwood and his cronies played during the set, which was at best mildly melancholic, even when it rocked (and they really can rock, driven by Phil Selway’s powerful drumming).
The overwhelming sense of misery wasn’t helped by Yorke’s voice. So when they ventured into more melodic territories there were occasional striking echoes of Glasgow’s angst and guilt-ridden Blue Nile, and for what it’s worth in their earlier material strong suggestions of a considerable debt to the Beatles’ White Album. But we were kept in cheery mood by our new French friends, who had moved on from gourmet delights to in-depth samplings of Carling Black Label, the beer franchise holders for the event. As every song finished they chorused “à poil” at the top of their voices, explaining later that “at rock concerts in France there’s always some jerk who shouts ‘à poil’ at the end of each song”. Well, in this case there were about eight jerks, but as they were loving every minute of it would have been churlish to complain. Carling
Practicalities come into play at an event like this – have you ever tried to get a tube from Mile End Station at 11.00pm along with twenty thousand others? So the giftee, as briefed, emerged from the throng at the start of the second encore, positioning us for a prompt departure. He was equally ecstatic and furious, so here’s a fans-eye view. The band, “fantastic”, “great to hear the new songs live”, “some old tunes I’d never heard them play before”, “Johnny Greenwood’s just brilliant”. The audience “a bunch of London t***s”, “no one was doing anything”, “middle class tossers who’d just come because they read about it in the Observer” (steady on son, that’s a bit close to home), “some of the w*****s were wearing suits and drinking Pimms” and so on, a view which I notice was shared on a number of the various on-line forums about the band. But that I suppose is what happens when you become “one of the biggest rock bands in the world”, or for that matter when any brand (yes, brand, not band) moves from a niche discerning positioning to one that is more ubiquitous. Hang on, that reminds me … - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate and Nick's iPhone)
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