Radiohead, 02, London Cheryl, 02, London

Radiohead have chosen a venue that represents everything they wail against, whereas fist-chewingly dull Cheryl Cole seems right at home

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If Radiohead are a band of contradictions – creators of challenging, "difficult" music who have enough fans to play two nights at a 20,000 seater hangar – then at least they're thorough about it.

As thorough, indeed, as the security at the 02. Before I even reach the auditorium my bag is searched twice and my body scanned with a metal detector. I also have to walk for half a mile past the fake plastic trees of the fake plastic boulevard which skirts the perimeter of the Millennium Dome, where fake plastic restaurants sell fake plastic food, till you reach the gig proper, by which time you're so demoralised that you don't mind paying £4.90 for 500ml of cider, and so obeisant that you don't even question it when a steward tells you off for daring to lean on a piece of fencing. Fall in line, sunshine, it's for your own good.

There's a monumental irony in the fact that Radiohead, a band who rail against soullessness, surveillance, commercialism and alienation, have chosen to perform in the most soulless, surveillance-happy, commercialised and alienating venue in Britain. When I hear the fourth song of the night, "The Daily Mail", with lines such as "We're here to keep your prices down" and "Paid off security and got through the gate", I become convinced Thom Yorke must be having a secret smirk at us all.

I've seen that smirk before. It's the one he did on Top of the Pops at the end of "Pyramid Song", oozing self-satisfaction at having whined and wailed like nails on a blackboard for four minutes and still had a hit single with it. I swear I catch it again tonight, fleetingly, on one of the dozen tile-shaped screens.

Radiohead are, of course, brilliant and awful at the same time. They excel at what they do. And what they do repels me. The combination of glitch and nu-prog they've been fine-tuning since the late Nineties is the intellectual option, the Radio 4 of arena rock, and everyone goes home feeling improved. But if it has to be admitted that "Myxomatosis" rocks, then it has to be added that "The Gloaming", on which Yorke squawks like a spoilt toddler, is bloody stupid. And any thought of engaging with us to bridge the divide, actually talking to us from inside their special laboratory, is apparently beneath their dignity.

Until tonight, if you'd told me that Radiohead's light show included QR codes, I'd assume they were doing so to make a subversive statement. After tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if, when you scan it with your smartphone, it gives you a "25 per cent off" token for Nando's. And I'm not the only one troubled by the callous juxtaposition of high art and low commerce on show. I see one person squatting with a cagoule over their head like a tent, sobbing gently. Admittedly, she may have had her own issues going on.

Even the band have a modicum of embarrassment about this massive mismatch. At the merchandise stall, among the T-shirts that are smugly made from recycled bottles, there's an "event litho" (a posh word for poster) claiming that the show is at "Peninsula Square, Greenwich" with no mention of mobile phone companies. Radiohead: having it both ways since 1992.

At least Cheryl, bleach-toothed L'Oréal mannequin, truly belongs here. Since her childhood in Stepford, a setting like this has surely been all she's dreamed of. Fakeness is her true element. The tabloids have been speculating that Cole has had a boob job. The question is moot: if she has, the falsies will be the most real thing about her.

Fakeness in pop, of course, can be wonderful, and the cyborg weirdness of "Promise This", with its hyper-speed "alouette-ette-ette" refrain, lifts spirits. But the Girls Aloud medley which follows only serves to remind you how great they were, and how fist-chewingly boring Cole's solo career has been, a point rammed home by the song that follows it, "Under the Sun", which I swear I could hear 100 times and still not remember how it goes.

A human dashboard doll flanked by dancers doing default pop-show choreography, and the owner of a voice that's weak as clock radio speakers; even her costumes are tedious: either aerobics clothes with glitter panels, or chiffon in billowing purple or clingy gold. What's even worse is her embarrassing belief that she's a down-and-dirty urban artist: see the sweary "Screw You", for which she's joined by Tinchy Stryder, the naff ersatz street slang of "Sexy Den a Mutha" and the duet with on "3 Words". She thinks she's Labelle when she's actually the Nolans.

Critic's Choice

Art-pop legends Sparks bring their Two Hands, One Mouth tour – essentially the Mael brothers performing the best of their four decades of material – to the UK, starting at Picture House, Edinburgh (next Sun). Bat for Lashes tours her excellent new album The Haunted Man, starting at the Ironworks, Inverness (Thu); Picture House, Edinburgh (Fri); ABC, Glasgow (next Sun); and Manchester Cathedral (Mon 22 Oct).