Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Radiohead at Coachella

Here it is*. Yes, the whole set.



I'm a casual Radiohead fan, meaning I love the music but get it through media (downloads & the increasingly bunkered YouTube Scotch Mist/Live from the Basement videos) rather than live performances. To get a live document is always a treat. The last one I watched on a loop was the Reading Festival set of 2009 (broadcast by the BBC), an early outing for the large-scale light show that here is expanded with video screens in a manner that recalls Zooropa period U2.

Now I've watched this show once and enjoyed it sufficiently to have my critical faculties anaesthetised. I thought I'd go back and watch - and more importantly, listen - with greater objectivity.

It's a great start, with opening lights that look like an onstage waterfall and guitars in thirds that actually sound like a pair of clarinets - has Woody Allen been invited?! - before the more familiar tonal centre of Bloom begins proper. It's nice to start the set with a number that starts an album; it preserves the sense of initiation. The screens hanging at various angles about 5m above the stage are a nice idea given the huge set, framing the centre a bit. Worryingly Bloom actually peters out a little so it's great that 15 Step is tight, strong and fizzing with live touches, sounds and melody you don't always get from the first forty listens to the studio version. We also get a first proper look at Clive Deamer, playing percussion hand-in-glove with Phil, and not least as this is a particularly consistent undulating aquamarine section of the lighting design. More maritime in both light and sound with Weird Fishes, that most opaque of tracks from In Rainbows. This doesn't quite translate to the live stage, unlike Morning Mr Magpie which follows, for which a guitar-to-the-fore arrangement is the first shot in the arm of the gig. Love Phil and Clive's stick/rim-shot work in the B section. The suspended screens are also coming into their own, showing all the rest of the band as if face on, irrespective of the camera angles.

So far so good, although Thom as has to ask the audience if they're actually there. his is less to do with the lights going down than the fact that the crowd's not totally beside themselves. Staircase is next up but a little unfortunately, given the neutrality of the general temperament uses exactly the same pulse as Magpie. Where the beat seems a bit fixed though, the synth sound and synched sound design open the ears. Even mistakes towards the end of the song sound intentionally smeared, diaphanous. More mystique with The Gloaming, a track that seduces with its peculiar wrong-footed opening, preserved here with a timbre shuffle for the gig and the silhouetted green back lighting. In the groove now, The Pyramid Song benefits from Jonny bowing his guitar. He's really playing it too, not just trying to mock up one of his Ondes Martenots. Thom has relaxed sufficiently to allow himself some trademark vocal cracks as well. Ooh, and Ed is playing in front of a palm tree.

Thom recognises that they've got the crowd now, introducing the band (!) and then going all in with a high risk 'acoustic' Daily Mail. This song is a curio for me. Very post-Britpop sounding and oddly proportioned the undisguised satire is probably lost on the locals. Certainly there's a drop in temperature which gets Thom excited about Myxomatosis 'Oh, a loud one!' - 'Nice and fast guys, keep us warm'. Colin obliges, slinging the bass around with some line and even stretching the pitch.

Back on a (rock 'n) roll the band play the song they should have done two numbers previously, Karma Police, Thom prefacing with some chat about people he wants to get at. That's the spirit, generic satire, rather than specific targets, although the temperament of the show is exposed with the half-hearted singalong extension of the playout. There's one truly new song in the set, which is Identikit. With a suggestion of reggae romp about it, it comes across as really fresh. I love Ed's vocal countermelody. I suspect this is not only as it's new to everyone, performers and audience alike but also because it doesn't suffer that peculiar adjustment one gets at a gig, whereby the carefully balanced studio arrangement disintegrates in favour of the expediency of live performance. This discrepancy is ably demonstrated by Lotus Flower which follows, a poised dance number which here is overbalanced by the bass and Thom's inexplicable shaker.

'The Eighties were shite in case you missed it' Thom says by way of introduction to There There - and I always thought it was intended as some sort of panacea for Cartesian doubt ('just 'cos you feel it doesn't mean it's there'). This key number from Hail To The Thief is a stadium thoroughbred, lacking Greenwood's soundscape safety net and a good opportunity to assess the band. I found it less involving than others on the set although the stage blazes as if aflame and the band hold on to the tempo i the dynamic shift 2/3rds of the way through the song which ran away from them at Reading. It really does start to kick off with Bodysnatchers, Ed conjuring a  Sarod-like metallic timbre in the lyric latter part of the song. Then the familiar syncopations of Idioteque begin (although the crowd don't get it until Paul Lansky's Mild und Leise sample kicks in). Thom seems a bit knackered by this stage, which makes it especially difficult to sustain the head voice singing of the chorus. The light show is a white blaze and this is the end of the official set.

The encores begin with Lucky into which the band settle like an old cardigan. Reckoner follows. Once again the mixed blessing of the live show mean the tambourine doesn't travel, it seems a bit gritty. The Elysian transition into the final section is a much more functional shift and lacks magic. Colin's bass playing is super though - a mistake, but jazz-like, not just glossed but incorporated and then elaborated in an improvised pickup after the bridge. The VJing makes close-ups of Thom look as if he's snogging himself. After The Gold Rush is a welcome change of pace/texture. It takes a while for the live feeding-back of Thom's vocals in Everything In It's Right Place to take effect, if it does at all. This is a disappointing close, evenly balanced to bass and drum and seguing into a synth playout out of synch.

Thankfully there are a second set of encores. This begins with a true live moment, a necessarily intimate 'acoustic' performance of Give Up The Ghost. Thom's opening chorusing is immediately recycled, always providing an extra frisson live, but I really went for Jonny Greenwood's accompanying guitar which sounds more like a banjo in the mix, a nice local touch. A special focused moment in the run of this show. Paranoid Android to finish: not the best choice actually as the gig hasn't built itself to this moment. The apex of the concert has long come and gone. The furious light show that follows the spasmodic stretches of the music is similarly excessive. Still bathos cures all and I love the 1930s jazz that plays the crowd away.

*It's a good idea to broadcast this, as it negates at a stroke all the glow-worm video-phone recordings being snatched in the audience

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