Radiohead @ Manchester Arena, 06/10/12

A Radiohead gig is an event. They don’t play ‘that’ often, and whenever they roll around to a city nearby there is always a scramble to get tickets.

In an attempt to only sell the tickets to fans, and remove the secondary ticket market of scalping and touts this was a ‘ticketless event’. When buying the tickets – directly from Radiohead you had to submit the names of each person who will be using the tickets to gain entry. Then, on arrival to the venue you needed to present Photo ID of each named attendee and they had to be there in person all together with the booking confirmation and bank card used to purchase. Your booking confirmation was taken from you and each person was given a wristband with a barcode on it; this was your entry to the show.

It seems like a bit of a rigmarole, but the truth is it worked seamlessly. That is if all the people who originally were going six months earlier, were still going now. For us that was the situation and the process was painless and very quick.

The venue is a personal favourite of mine and not long before the band hit the stage there is a clear air of expectation and excitement bubbling over. Coming on stage to King of Limbs album track ‘Lotus Flower’, followed immediately by ‘Airbag’ from OK Computer it was clear that Radiohead were in the top form they always seem to be. The sound was immaculate (in fairness a lot to do with Manchester Arena too) and the playing from all members (including additional drummer Clive Deamer) was exemplary.

As with all Radiohead gigs the light show was a spectacle in itself with many screens moving around and different effects for different moods and songs. I wonder how different the stage show is now after the disaster in Canada when Scott Johnson was killed alongside the stage equipment being destroyed?

The band have always moved forward with their sound, and have come up against much differing opinion as their direction has changed and progressed over the years. Some, like me, don’t think the band have made a bad album and have been taken along the journey and enjoyed everything they have done since “the Kid A moment” in 2000. Others feel The Bends and Pablo Honey were the last good thing Radiohead have done. 1995 then. Tonight that latter group certainly weren’t here; not judging by the reaction each electronic click, whirr and beep got as song after song started.

Radiohead fans are fanatic. Really fanatic. There would be very few people in this venue (especially given how hard it was to get tickets on a “whim”) who didn’t own, love, live and breath every piece of music the band have written. Which is handy as tonight, song choice is the most current material and mostly covers the years immediately preceding King of Limbs. There is much electronic drums starting many songs, which whilst not a bad thing hints nothing of their past and the more traditional rock roots. When it does delve back into the history vaults, song choices are applauded but the band never seem to want to pick the more popular songs or obvious stand-out tracks from an older album.

For example when Thom does say “This is a really old song…” it proves to be ‘Planet Telex’ from The Bends. Yes it is a really old song, but nobody can honestly say its the best song from that album. Could it not have been ‘The Bends’, ‘Just’ or ‘My Iron Lung’ (for similar tempo), or rather obviously ‘High n’ Dry’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ or ‘Street Spirit’ for instantly recognisable and truly classic? What about the OK Computer album? Considered by many revered critics as the greatest album of the past however long or not, there is much more to the album than ‘Airbag’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ yet that is all which is aired tonight. There had to be people in the crowd (probably most of them if they’ll admit it) who would love to hear more of that material live again. ‘Karma Police’, ‘Exit Music (from a film)’ or ‘No Surprises’ for example.

Remembering thought that Kid A is 12 years old and much has come since, gives things a little more perspective and it is clear tonight how many great songs the band have written over these years. ‘Idioteque’, ‘How To Disappear Completely’, ‘Nude’, ‘National Anthem’, ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’, ‘Pyramid Song’ and ‘There There’ are all perfect examples which played tonight that have cemented themselves as some of the greatest songs the band have written.

I’ve seen Radiohead on every tour since The Bends tour and have never had a complaint about their show, and on balance I don’t here either. Not in terms of performance or overall song choice. So don’t get me wrong, I loved this gig but for the first time ever probably I saw it in a different light. The band are jaw-dropping musicians who can recreate live what any other act would not be able to do without a vast reliance of backing tapes. Each song was fantastic sounding, the atmosphere throughout the gig was electrified and few other times have I witnessed 21,000 people in a venue go completely silent (pin-drop silent) when a song starts – as happened when Thom started piano on ‘The Daily Mail’.

You have to be 100% immersed in this band to really get a lot from their gigs nowadays. For any new ‘fans’ who perhaps came along with the true die-hard fan (my wife dragged along by me for example) there was little to make them more accessible, a hook, a reference point. Certainly those tracks mentioned above don’t make it onto the radio very often. As usual nothing from Pablo Honey was played, but this is no real surprise to anyone who has seen them before or reviewed previous setlist over the years.

Given this though it is a bit of a shame then as ‘Creep’ (arguably their most famous song) comes from that album. Sure, they’ve progressed and few bands who have enjoyed such a strong career as Radiohead have need to rely on their earliest material for kicks live, but I cannot think of any who regularly ignore that back catalogue as passionately and act as if nothing worthy from it exists.

We love your now and most likely will love your future Radiohead, but remember your history sometimes. Just once or twice in a 24-song set you can afford to play another “…really old song”.

Radiohead Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2012, The King of Limbs

Gareth Fraser

Editor of Musicscramble. Obsessed with music from a young age leading to over 1100 gigs under his belt with little sign of slowing down. A serious record collecting habit and a love of concert photography.

2 thoughts on “Radiohead @ Manchester Arena, 06/10/12

  1. I’d love to have seen Radiohead live however judging by your review I think I’ve missed the boat. Last album I got was Hail to the Thief but I’d be mainly be interested in the “classics” as I see them.

    • Yeah, absolutely. That was what I was trying to get at….

      Hail to the Thief is an amazing album, and as I said in the review are the albums after. There are some cracking songs on them. In Rainbows is a piece of genius, and King of Limbs has its moments too. It’s just, you know, vary the setlist to include a wider spectrum of back catalogue.

      But, Radiohead fans are indeed fanatic (I certainly am one of them) and everything is a “classic”. Instant or otherwise.