I first discovered Radiohead when I was thirteen years old. It was the summer of 2007 and we had stopped in a small English country village. Armed with my walkman and a ten pound note, I browsed the CD racks while my father fueled our car before continuing on our three-hour journey to Bath. Being overwhelmed with choice, I grabbed the first one I saw: Radiohead’s The Bends. Needless to say I was hooked from the onset. Being the only album I listened to for that summer, it’s apparent that I’m a bit of a fanboy. It was this album that set me up for a future of music, but also set me up for a little element of disappointment throughout the concert.
Update 13/11/2012: Thom Yorke to DJ at Sydney’s Goodgod Club tonight?
Five years later, and I stood outside the Sydney Entertainment Centre, awaiting what would be one of the greatest live performances I would witness. It was evident from the beginning that I was not the only one with this level of excitement, with ecstatic fans hustling around, trying to be first in line for both beer and merchandise. The scalpers were out in force, yet Chuggs’ efforts to discourage such acts proved successful, with few illegal sales made. As Conan Moaksikn left the stage, the crowd progressively began to pour in.
The lights dimmed and screams soared as the British five-piece stormed the stage to a percussive instrumental, which set the tone for the remainder of the evening. Progressing into OK Computer’s Lucky, it was clear that the set would be filled with tracks from across the years. The accompanying light show was a spectacle in itself, consisting of an LCD backdrop that would put any other to shame, in addition to twelve individual ‘floating screens’ projecting a sea of ever-hanging light upon the monstrous crowd.
It was not long before all in attendance realised the true spectacle that was unfolding before them as the arpeggiated sequence that forms the foundations of Weird Fishes filled the depths of Sydney’s Entertainment Centre. However, Thom Yorke and co were not restricted to their current eight albums, showcasing two new tracks Staircase and Fullstop throughout the course of the concert. Both tracks saw the band maintain their percussive roots, mirroring tracks on The King of Limbs and In Rainbows. The aforementioned ‘floating screens’ continued to rearrange themselves, depicting both live feeds of all members on stage and a vast array of colours, which complimented the musical display that continued to unfold.
The arrival of a piano was seen as a good sign by many, and before Yorke played the first chord, it was clear that it would be something special. He stated, “I think you’ll be familiar with this one” before breaking into a remix of In Rainbows‘ closing track, Videotape. What followed was a unanimous silence as the beat work of the Greenwood brothers shaped a completely different version of the orchestral-style track, turning it into the beginnings of a dance floor filler. The tribal drums of Hail To The Thief’s There There opened as Greenwood’s guitar riff followed suit. Yorke’s never-faltering wide range furthered the group’s showcase of musical talent, as he continued to amaze fans and critics alike. The mellow mood of Videotapes was followed by a sensational rendition of In Rainbows‘ Nude, which saw the bass line transform from the studio recording, sending vibrations throughout the bodies of all.
Screams of delight greeted the beginnings of Planet Telex as they revisited their seminal album The Bends for a brief period. The iconic chorus was accompanied with backing vocals provided by the audience, as that definitive ascending change in melodic progression caused everyone’s heart to skip a beat. The heavily distorted guitar saw a drastic change from the percussively heavy set.
The five-piece left the stage at the closing of Bodysnatchers, yet another piece that was completely transformed by the dominating bass line. Yorke’s infamous dance moves saw him move to every bit of open space on stage and beyond – surely an occupational health and safety issue that should never be addressed. Ever.
Having only performed for little over an hour, the prospect of an encore was certain. However, when only Thom and Greenwood returned to perform a stripped-down version of Give Up the Ghost, the crowd stood completely silent for those five minutes, gazing on in admiration at the musical talent of both artists. Transfixed upon the events of the stage, Radiohead were quick to move through Pyramid Song, These Are My Twisted Words and Reckoner before the famed chord progression of Paranoid Android was received with deafening screams.
The diverse and complex song took punters on a musical rollercoaster as the transition between acoustic and electric guitars was defined by a blinding light display, subsequently bathing the surrounding audience in a sea of both red and blue. The alternative version of the song further aided Radiohead’s cause, as the seven-minute epic consumed and intoxicated the minds of all. As they once again left the stage, it wasn’t long before the screams for more were answered.
Once again returning to the stage, the recognisable percussive elements of 15 Step saw the crowd attempt to mimic Yorke’s dance moves, failing miserably. After recognising the ‘Free Tibet’ movement, the muted, mellow synth beginnings of Everything In Its Right Place emerged from the tower of speakers. A similar percussive backing to the live remix of Videotape made it slightly less orchestral but more impressive as a live performance. Radiohead would return once more for a rendition of Idioteque, which was received with yet another crowd rendition of key vocals ‘Take the money and run, Take the money and run’ over and over again. A fourth encore seemed too selfish, and the horrible realisation that there would be no more music set in.
I cannot say I didn’t expect it: the lack of material from The Bends; however, the possibility still sat at the back of my mind. After ample amount of research it was clear that more than three songs from their second album is a rare occurrence; however, a glimmer of hope still remained that they may just break out My Iron Long or High & Dry, though I’ll be happy with Planet Telex. Yet this slight drawback, part my own fault, was the only possible downside to Radiohead’s first Sydney show in many years and it was clear that everyone had witnessed a majestic display of musical brilliance, an occurrence one does not encounter often.
People often ask me why I do what I do: work within the music industry that is. A majority of the time I struggle to come up with an answer, working in recording studios and label offices as a teenager for the past four years instead of going to beaches with my friends does not sound like the most enticing thing in the world. Until this concert I couldn’t think of an actual reason as to why I do it, nor could I completely justify sacrificing hours of weekends and nights to try to get that foot up. Yet Thom Yorke made it clear. The emotions conveyed within the near two-hour set (especially during Videotape) made me realise why I, and all the other industry individuals around me, do what we do. Radiohead displayed what music should truly be about, leaving all the bullshit behind. It’s not often an individual comes to a realisation such as that; however, I suppose that’s the power of music.