“The haves have not a clue.” – Ed Vedder, Bu$hleaguer

“Dah dengar, dah tengok video epilepsy tu, mystery to me why they are deified by Q magazine.” – Nik H., Facebook comment

“rantrantrantrant they played Climbing Up The Walls rantrantrant curled rantrant fetal position rant clutching tickets rantrantrantrant” – theneon, every opportune moment since April 2004

I like Radiohead, but for the life of me, I cannot remember exactly when that was. My best bet would be in 1997. I was aware of the band in the late 90’s when they were lumped with bands in the alt-rock label (a label I would still naïvely reserve for anything that came out from the American northwest state of Washington). A lab colleague of mine in Brum was mentioning how the band was “a bit crap” in their earlier Oxford days but was looking forward to see their 1997 NEC Arena show in support of their eponymous OK Computer record. Basically doing a back catalogue of the band was pretty easy to the ears (and mind) when you could see the gradual evolution of their material, although I had to admit their sophomore effort was ever so better than their debut.

Until Kid A came out.

It won a Grammy. Kirk Hammett declared in an interview that it was one of the most exciting rock records to come out (then again, Kirk at that time had a short ‘fro, smoking cigars and was wearing eyeliner). I took a listen and was scared shitless. It wasn’t until the follow-up, Amnesiac came out that I bought Kid A. Unlike the more accessable Amnesiac, it took me a couple more years to accept the record. Obviously, by this time theneon was somewhat instrumental in helping me appreciate the nuances of the band’s new direction.

If I had to give my impression of Radiohead’s music, it’ll be music for angry disappointed people. An overgeneralisation, I must agree, but the Radiohead songs I love contain bitterness, anger and the occasional contempt, a lot of it aimed at politicians and how they are wrecking the country, if not the world. If girls feel liberated by the Since U Been Gones and Never Agains, I’d drown my sorrow any time with music by Thom et al. Damn right.

This physical dabbling with electronica and krautrock did wax and wane with the subsequent records. HTTT and In Rainbows were a bit more of a mixed bag of the usual guitar-driven rock you’d get pre-Kid A, then we had that curve ball that was TKOL. Armed with what I thought I ‘learnt’ from KA/A records, only the latter half was digestable. Heh. They played Glasto in 2011 but then went off to do an extensive Stateside tour, only to return to these shores pretty much last Saturday. For a three-date UK tour. This was not the first time the UK had a mere handful of dates (like that South Park gig during their 3rd leg of the Amnesiac tour).

I snagged one ticket for this show at Manchester. Apart from the fact that I have no friends (hahaha), my Radiohead-loving mates are halfway across the world now. I hate the MEN Arena seating area due to my irrational fear of heights. Gimme an effin’ handrail dammit. I caught the last two Caribou songs when I got to my seat way back on the uppermost aspect of the lower tier (thankfully). The view was similar to that of my 1st night at Pearl Jam this year albeit a tad further. The house was packed to the rafters and this was with ticket sales sold purely to those who wanted to go, thanks to the ticketless system employed by Ticketmaster. There were a few eBay tickets but no scalpers were around the arena that evening. At all!

Radiohead came on at 8:45PM and slowly sauntered onstage looking around at the appreciative audience who had waited so long for them to play these shores since last year. A ponytailed Thom Yorke then turned around to pick up his maracas whilst Clive Deamer waited no longer to start the count into Lotus Flower, the debut song from TKOL with the much reverse-parodied video on YouTube. Thom wasn’t doing his, err… dance as much as he did in said video but the song was a tad sped up and was just superb. Hearing something familiar ever so soon was a surprise, when they played Airbag next. I noticed that Deamer would take a backseat during older Radiohead songs, leaving Phil Selway to do his stuff.

They got the piano out and The Daily Mail was belted out with much aplomb, followed by a much more convulsive Myxomatosis. The mood ebbed and flowed with the mixture of songs as things mellowed down a notch with The Gloaming and Separator. You’d never thought you see a guitar ‘duel’ of sorts between Thom and Jonny Greenwood during TAMTW. The mood wasn’t as sombre as I thought with the recent demise of their drum tech that occurred before the start of their show in Downsview Park, Toronto in the summer. Life goes on.

I like it when their songs that sound downright bizarre are shown to be played with regular instruments. Radiohead has pretty much evolved to the point of making music without resorting to rigid traditional roles we all know so well. Here I saw both guitarists resorting to percussions in between guitar duties on There There. I’d even hear Ed O’Brien’s guitar gives out short synth-y bursts on Bloom when I thought damn well that was produced by a keyboard or a computer programme. Jonny brought out a little transistor radio to the mic and I knew that it was time for The National Anthem. Six years ago I was carried adrift in the crowd to this tune and I was surprised that tonight’s crowd was somewhat more subdued (the age factor?) to mere head-bobbing despite the pounding Shin-Ei fuzz of Colin Greenwood hiding in his comfy spot with the same cream-coloured Fender Precision between the two drummers.

Thom went joget mental big time for Feral, which he remarked that in the ‘States they didn’t know what it meant thinking it was a drug. “Ready?” said Thom, followed by him counting tut tut with Selway into Paranoid Android. Again, I felt that tonight’s Android didn’t have the glory that I saw back at Blackpool ’06 but thankful I was nonetheless that this seminal tune was played tonight.

They came back for an encore with the forlorn jibe at Tony Blair et al. that is You And Whose Army? under the mauve-tinted lights. Thankfully the audience was clapping in time for this tune. Thom was just about to get ready to play a “new new tune” (Ful Stop) when the front row spontaneously burst into singing Happy Birthday to the Radiohead singer who would turn 44 the day after, followed by sheepish “Thank you” from Thom. Planet Telex was a pleasant surprise before ending the encore with HTDC.

Have you ever heard a rock gig crowd telling people to shush? Well, this was my first time and rightly so, too – this occurred during the beautiful Give Up The Ghost which saw Thom, on his acoustic Martin, looping his own voice to create layers of vocal harmony accompanied by Jonny on his Fender Starcaster. It was too mindblowing, really. In fact, throughout the evening you’d see Ed, Thom and Jonny busy with little gadgets during the band’s performance. I’d give up remembering which bits are for which after the second song I think. I thought at this point the irony of watching them play EITRP, the first Radiohead tune I’ve seen live as the finisher. What a way to end a show, right?

Wrong. I did notice that Thom left pretty early whilst Ed and Jonny were left to their own devices mucking about the pedals as they do for this tune. Thom then returned with the rest of the band for the ultimate joget ayam that is Idioteque. By this time, my camera was out of juice (well, it already died by the time they played Ghost) and all I had was an effed up version on the iPhone. Joget ayam we did, but without the turning on the spot like that git next to me in Blackpool. Hahaha.

That was a two-hour and 15-minute show. Seen Radiohead twice now. Hah.

Enjoy the playlist (it is currently being updated, so just keep on checking):

My photos of the show at Flickr – click here.

MEN Arena, Manchester set 6.10.12: Lotus Flower / Airbag / Bloom / The Daily Mail / Myxomatosis / The Gloaming / Separator / These Are My Twisted Words / Pyramid Song / Nude / Weird Fishes/Arpeggi / Reckoner / There There / The National Anthem / Hunting Bears / Feral / Paranoid Android // You and Whose Army? / Ful Stop / Morning Mr. Magpie / Planet Telex / How to Disappear Completely // Give Up the Ghost / Everything In Its Right Place (w/ Björk’s “Unravel” intro) // Idioteque