How I Learned To Love Radiohead – Live At The O2 Arena

Thom Yorke King of Limbs

Radiohead at the O2 Arena, 9th October 2012

In many ways, writing a Radiohead concert review is somewhat redundant. What do you want to know about last night’s O2 Arena show ? That they were mesmeric? That they played two songs each from OK Computer and The Bends? (Airbag, Street Spirit, Paranoid Android and Planet Telex)…

Strangely enough last night was my first time seeing Radiohead live in concert. Where have I been all this time?

Actually, I do know the answer to that question. I have always been a few years behind them, trying to catch up.

I knew Creep of course, which slotted neatly into the genre so expertly described in by Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher in Clueless as “Complaint Rock” (Indeed, Fake Plastic Trees was on the Clueless soundtrack). OK Computer was the record that made me sit up and take notice, especially Paranoid Android – still one of the most exciting songs to ever be named after a robot (That’s not damning it with faint praise – there are quite a few: Iron Man, Grinder, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 2 et al…). I was very happy they played it last night.

Then came Kid A.

I was excited about Kid A. I tuned into Radio 1 to hear the first play. I wanted OK Computer part 2. I expected more build up, more drums, more guitar, more cowbell – more anything apart from this droning ambient, well – what was it? This one had electronically generated vocals. A drum machine. Believe me, in 2000 I was not ready to hear a Radiohead album with a drum machine, previously the exclusive preserve of 2Unlimited and Kylie and Jason.

It was like being told Led Zeppelin were reforming. With The Pet Shop Boys.

I was expecting a new Star Wars film. I got The Origin of Jar Jar Binks.

The nation hadn’t groaned with disappointment so much since George Michael announced he wouldn’t release Listen Without Prejudice Part 2.

I was in Denial at first. It couldn’t be Radiohead surely? Then Anger. What are they playing at?! What is this?! I felt like Bargaining. I wanted an album with guitars in it. Anthemic. Not mesmeric. Maybe if the next one has some guitars in it, and they play all their old stuff I’ll let them go on this electronica diversion, I thought. Get it out of their system.

It got worse. Amnesiac was to Kid A what Grease 2 was to Grease. Without Michelle Pfeiffer. Radiohead had jumped the shark. Or so I thought.

This brought on Depression. I sulked. I may even have stamped my feet. I swore off Radiohead – until they realised the error of their ways. Of course, what I didn’t realise at the time was that Radiohead were right and I was wrong. I only realised this when Radiohead offered me an olive branch.

“Pay what you think it’s worth”…

Given the disappointment of the last three albums, I was cautious. I paid 79p for In Rainbows because (based on iTunes pricing) that was how many tracks I thought I’d enjoy from it. I feel bad about that now (or I did until I paid for the vinyl copy of King of Limbs). I did it because I thought that Radiohead had betrayed me. That their head had been turned by a younger, prettier femme fatale called Electronica. They hadn’t. They had just moved on. It was time for me to do so too. Slowly, In Rainbows crept towards the top of my ‘played’ count in iTunes. Finally came Acceptance. It was a great record. They hadn’t jumped the shark. But perhaps they might have done if they hadn’t released Kid A. I listened back to that and Amnesiac too, and seven years after the event recognised how good they were.

Last night, in their two-and-a-quarter hour set, and surrounded by video screens straight out of Aha’s Take On Me video, Radiohead opened with Lotus Flower, Airbag, Bloom, a beautiful Daily Mail (which is not a phrase you will see often) Myxomatosis and Bodysnatchers. They played a bass-heavy The Gloaming and Separator. We heard Videotape, Nude, Weird Fishes / Arpeggi, Reckoner and There There, an amazing National Anthem, Feral, and Paranoid Android. Then followed Give Up The Ghost, I Might be Wrong, Planet Telex, a rocky version of Mr Magpie, Street Spirit, Staircase, some of True Love Waits, Everything In It’s Right Place and Idioteque. It was great. They were great. The entire arena was on it’s feet by the end.

I’m sorry Radiohead. It wasn’t you – it was me…I’m a creep….

Record #102: Radiohead – Paranoid Android

Categories: Indie, Live Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. Oh dear, this is such a common story. Amazing how uncomfortable rock fans are at being outside their comfort zone. Glad to hear you got over it, though! Kid A is my favourite Radiohead album by some distance (though it’s not perfect – Idioteque is not a pleasant song in any way).


  2. Wow…what a show! Wish I was there.

    The first time I saw Radiohead was in a Washington, DC area amphitheater. They were opening for Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill this was in 1995. I had heard ‘Creep’ and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, which I liked but I hadn’t bought their CDs yet.

    I remember Thom saying “Hi…we’re Radiohead. We’ll be playing until it gets dark.” Great show.

    I also saw them at the Tibet Freedom Concert in DC. I was right up front and they were awesome. Thom sang with R.E.M.’s ‘E-Bow the Letter’ on day two because Patti Smith had a problem with her flight. Thom also played some acoustic solo on the Capital Building steps the Monday following the shows. (He wore the same t-shirt for all 3 days!)


  3. So disappointed that they didn’t play those tracks from Ok Computer and The Bends when I saw them on the 8th, they did play ‘Karma Police’ however but it sounds like you got the better show!


  4. your story is better because it’s EVERYONE’S story. i think basically no one heard Radiohead for the first time, pricked up their ears and said, “this is a band to watch.” but the unavoidable truth is that they combine originality with brilliance, and that’s really as simple as it gets.


    • Thanks – I agree with you – they just continue to move forward and then hope the rest of us catch up. Which we do. Eventually.


    • I disagree – coming relatively late to Radiohead myself, Kid A was the first album I heard. I was instantly hooked, devoured Amnesiac shortly after and when I looked up their back catalogue and discovered The Bends and OK Computer my mind was blown.

      I guess my point is that I did exactly that – prick up my ears and jump on the bandwagon (no pun intended) from the first song I heard. It only got better from there.


      • Interesting – I think that I might feel the same if Kid A had been the first Radiohead album I had heard. The reason Kid A got the reaction it did was (in my view) that the change from OK Computer to Kid A was so huge. Thanks for reading and for your comment.


  5. In November 2003 I had a great weekend bookended by David Bowie on the Friday night and Radiohead on the Sunday night. Other than the fact I spent much of the Radiohead gig sitting next to someone who kept moaning that they weren’t playing anything off Pablo Honey, it was a fantastic gig. I love ‘Ok Computer’ and ‘Hail to the Thief’, I think, is superb. Love the mood of it, so atmospheric. I know some of their electronic stuff can be a little hard to get into, but personally I love their adaptability. I think that’s important, they can move with the times, experiment, yet maintain a sense of their own identity. Congratulations on your first Radiohead gig. 🙂


  6. I think your comments are very apt. First album I bought was The Bends and then have been buying them as they come out, but it’s only when you see the songs performed (at least once!) you realise just how good they are – Reckoner from In Rainbows is a perfect example, and yet I saw them do that four years ago in Victoria Park! I went both nights at the O2 and I think the second one edged it, although Pyramid Song on night 1 was pretty damn good!


  7. I’ve loved the band since forever and there are no “bad albums” in my mind. However this is a perfectly put review. I can’t really say anything more than you already have about the ‘problem’ with Radiohead gigs and staying loyal. 🙂


  8. Went both nights at the O2, First (8th) setlist was much more dreamlike and mesmeric, second night was as if they decided they wanted to blow off the cobwebs and be a rock band. It was phenomenal, possibly the best gig I have ever been to, including Radiohead 1997-2001 gigs. Fantastic Nights


  9. Love the story. I wish I could have undergone the same process as you, the first Radiohead album I heard was Kid A. Not saying I want a reason to hate them, but just to fully experience what it would have been like at the time. I can only imagine..


  10. Very interesting read! I saw them in concert in 2008 and they were stunning! As for the albums, initially Kid A was indeed a huge WTF moment. But it didn’t take me long to appreciate it (especially on a really good music system). The Bends and OK will always be my top favourites though. King of Limbs was the first record of theirs that I wasn’t a huge fan of. I don’t hate it though.


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