Radiohead, The Roundhouse, gig review: Still finding new ways to astonish us

A setlist that showcases the sheer versatility of a band who have never done what was expected of them

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 27 May 2016 00:02
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Radiohead  frontman Thom Yorke performs at the Roundhouse
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke performs at the Roundhouse

It’s been some time since Radiohead were last seen on stage and Thom Yorke knows it. This feels mad,” he says, looking out at the crowd.

Ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool ends the longest period the band have gone without putting out a new record and harks back to some of the band’s best work, and this gig - one of three sold-out London shows - marks their first in the capital in four years.

On opener ‘Burn the Witch’ it's impossible not to recall Hail To The Thief's “Wolf at the Door”. “Don't look in the mirror/At the face you don't recognise” Yorke moans as Jonny Greenwood holds a violin bow to his guitar and draws out those orchestral notes, blood-red lights flashing (surely his film score credentials have something to do with this dramatic set).

Following the end of his long-term relationship in 2015, it feels as though Yorke is delving back into traditional songwriting structures on this latest work - not as cohesive as 2007’s In Rainbows but close, and an album where Yorke opens up about personal truths and self-doubt, admitting them to his audience.

Jonny Greenwood plays piano during Radiohead's Roundhouse show

But calling A Moon Shaped Pool a "breakup album" doesn't really do it justice: "There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky," Yorke sings on 'Decks Dark', world weary. And "dreamers they never learn," he croons as Greenwood draws out those shivering notes on the piano for 'Daydreaming' - this is serious stuff.

Fans crane their necks and gaze at the stage with religious fervour at Yorke’s gaunt features, rapturous at those wordless moans that could rouse the dead from their graves. These are fans who fall over one another to try and deconstruct the meaning behind a single still from one music video.

They’re given a setlist that showcases the sheer versatility of a band who have consistently avoided yielding to what was expected of them and have no qualms in continuing that tradition here. Fans scream and bellow as Yorke teases out an intro then falter, wrong-footed, as he changes tack with a knowing grin.

"We’re gonna stay and play everything…" he says, looking out at the crowd… "not".

British rock’s bravest and perhaps most unique rock group are, unfortunately, still not flawless, but the odd hiccup allows for Yorke to play the clown. Greenwood, on the other hand, is deadly serious; darting from guitar to piano to drums.

The lights plunge out after each track but '2 + 2 = 5' somehow manages to bleed into ‘Nude'. Since this tour began, each gig has come with a major surprise; until their gig in Paris at Le Zenith, ‘Creep’ hadn’t made an appearance in one of their live setlists since a 2009 headline slot at Reading Festival. Earlier in Amsterdam they dusted off ‘My Iron Lung’, and tonight, out come 'Talk Show Host', and ‘Myxomatosis' with its bone-crunching synths.

"'Fake Plastic Trees' it is not," Yorke announces as the night draws to a close and fans shriek out song names with tentative hope.

It’s 'Paranoid Android'. As they draw towards the close with one of their most renowned works, it seems incredible that after nine albums, Radiohead are still finding new ways to astonish us.

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