I took the opportunity to see Radiohead when they played at Glasgow Green this summer as part of the Trnsmt festival. Even though they have been one of my favourite bands for over 15 years, I had never actually gone to see them before.
This time round, I thought I’d better get the chance while they are still upright.
Radiohead are now in transition — from contemporary trailblazers to Legends Of Rock trading largely on past glories. They are approaching the phase that the Rolling Stones have been in for the whole of my life. They are still good, but they also verge on self-parody because anything else would seem like inauthentic dad-dancing.
That transition has been slowly happening for a while. But this year’s fancy reissue of the 20-year-old OK Computer is a milestone moment. For the first time, it’s official: this band is looking to the past. The 20th anniversary of their best-selling album came in the middle of this tour, which was technically promoting their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Radiohead’s peak in the studio having passed long ago, a new album is now approached with as much trepidation than excitement. But seeing them live is still an opportunity to be grasped.
This was Radiohead’s first gig in Scotland for 9 years. Who knows when they will be back next, or if they will even be back again, and if you will even want to see them any more by that point.
When you follow a band closely, you can begin to lose track of whether their new material is actually any good. Seeing a band live throws a harsh spotlight on that.
The checklist of songs I really wanted to see them play contained a cluster from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Everything In Its Right Place was not negotiable. Anything from their last four albums was. I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to sing along with a crowd to Myxomatosis, or even sit through the ugly Bloom any more than is strictly necessary.
Of course, no band wants to just play the hits — especially not Radiohead. So you have to wade through an Identikit to get to an Idioteque.
(To the band’s credit, the most heavily-represented album in the setlist was In Rainbows, the best of their post-Amnesiac albums.)
Alex, who accompanied me to the gig but is not as familiar with Radiohead’s material, said she thought a lot of the songs sounded the same. I certainly found myself struggling to work out what at least one of the latter-period songs even was.
But when they start playing a classic from OK Computer or Kid A, boy does the crowd know about it.
Now I can go to my grave knowing that I saw Radiohead play Everything In Its Right Place, Paranoid Android and Idioteque. And it was awesome. I mean, just look at this.
I didn’t see Airbag though, the fourth key song on my checklist. There’s always next time, probably when Radiohead next need their pensions topped up.
Meanwhile, many of my fears about big outdoor festival gigs came true.
As the first encore began, a wee ned charged through the crowd and parked herself in front of me. She yelped, “Daydreaming! This is my favourite!”, then proceeded to loudly chit-chat her way through the whole of what was an otherwise beautiful performance.
There was rather too much chit-chat going on. A lot of people were there not to see Radiohead, but just to be part of a big crowd for the lols. I seemed to be surrounded by some particularly ostentatious people who didn’t seem very concerned about anyone who might have wanted to actually enjoy the concert.
Then there were the people protesting about Radiohead’s decision to perform in Tel Aviv. There was a group of people waving huge Palestine flags and protest banners. The banners didn’t last very long, presumably because the people behind the banner were severely annoyed about not being able to see the concert they’d paid to see.
All through this, I was regretting my decision not to go to the loo rather than stay put to keep my only-moderately-good position in the crowd after the few people who were there to see Belle and Sebastian had vacated the scene.
The best moment of the concert came a few songs later, when the band surprised the crowd by playing Fake Plastic Trees. It was the only time all evening that the people around me were silent — an eerie but beautiful moment. Everyone was transfixed by this demonstration of exactly what made Radiohead the greatest band of their era.
And that’s the truth of it. In all fairness, despite my cynicism and the sarcasm expressed in this post, Radiohead are still one of the best bands in the world. They are still making some of the most interesting music around. And what a show they put on.