4 septembre 1997, Bridlington, Bridlington Spa
For those about to baroque, article de Stephen Dalton pour le NME du 13 september 1997
bridlington spa pavilion
five figures huddle inside a swirling fog bank of puce and scarlet. sturdy steel towers loom behind them, a hi-tech vision of hell as post-industrial nightclub. and, erm, thatâ€™s it.
in other words, radiohead are readying themselves to play the big sheds with a minimum of theatrical gubbins. no lurid popmart insanity here, no stonehenge models. not quite yet, andyway. itâ€™s still just about the music, man.
besides, itâ€™s no longer a question of whether radiohead can deliver gobsmacking live shows. itâ€™s more whether they do a simply astounding professional job or whether they cut loose and take you on a terrifying tightrope walk across the yawning existential void. bridlington offers a bit of both.
radioheadâ€™s swelling legion of fans now includes the sort of bright, well-scrubbed and mildly disfunctional types who used to follow blur before discovering the hard stuff. they have their own bona fide anthems in â€™[karma police->http://www.radiohead.fr/Karma-Police]â€™ and â€™[fake plastic trees->http://www.radiohead.fr/Fake-Plastic-Trees]â€™, each inciting a riot of swaying, upturned palms. they also get pogo-mental floorquakes including the seismic spasms of â€™[my iron lung->http://www.radiohead.fr/My-Iron-Lung]â€™ and the guitar nuclear meltdown of â€™[the bends->http://www.radiohead.fr/the-bends]â€™.
plus â€™[creep->http://www.radiohead.fr/Creep]â€™, of course, which qualifies on both counts and is confidently inserted mid-set :
like some throwaway trifle. radiohead are obviously becoming reconciled to this former albatross : thom yorke announces it as a â€™pretty good songâ€™ and croons a loving, measured version. not trashing the past, but not romanticising it either.
throughout everything, fast or slow, thom oscillates to his own inner drum beat, a frazzled gonk turned loser messiah. but heâ€™s not choking on self-disgust and pre-millenial nausea tonight. instead heâ€™s energised, clearly enjoying himself, dispensing effusive thanks and even cracking jokes. fitter, happier.
which is healthy, of course, but it means thereâ€™s a certain spark missing. thom plainly isnâ€™t prepared to fake the gnashing turbo-gloom of his most knotted, antagonistic performances. instead we get premier league professionals, breaking in their stadium set :
, hitting all the right buttons. perhaps being both critical and commercial faves has blunted their rabid attack slightly. itâ€™s a terrible thought, but maybe happiness doesnâ€™t serve radiohead too well.
whatever, itâ€™s not a serious flaw. by the end of this tour they are bound to be miserable bastards again, and they will also doubtless have ironed out more lumpy moments like the cumbersome â€™[planet telex->http://www.radiohead.fr/Planet-Telex]â€™ or the muted â€™[subterranean homesick alien->http://www.radiohead.fr/Subterranean-Homesick-Alien]â€™. thereâ€™s a sprinkling of b-sides and â€™pablo honeyâ€™ throwbacks here too whcih leave most of the crowd cold.
still, thereâ€™s always the mini-backlash to get radiohead good and riled again. it centres around their alleged prog-rock tendencies on â€™OK Computerâ€™. which is fair comment, but the implication of aloof muso twiddlers could scarcely be wider of the mark. this is a band who clearly wouldnâ€™t exist without punk, the smiths and nirvana ; a band who cut right to the emotional bone – and then keep slashing away until there is blood and sinew and shiny wet giblets splurged across the kitchen floor.
so maybe we donâ€™t know what the bleeding arse thom is howling about as he teeters through his umpteenth nervous breakdown to the ballistic noise riot of â€™[just->http://www.radiohead.fr/just]â€™, but we know damn sure heâ€™s channelling huge, scary, high-voltage emotions like some human lightning conductor. and when jonny greenwood virtually saws his guitar in half with his violent demolition of â€™[bones->http://www.radiohead.fr/Bones]â€™, prog noodling is emphatically not on the agenda.
and yet, ironically, radiohead shine most when they fully embrace their more pretentious side. if prog-rock means being baroque, unashamedly serious and vaultingly ambitious, yorke and co should get those â€™sonic cathedralâ€™ t-shirts printed up right now and be done with it. [anyone can play guitar->http://www.radiohead.fr/Anyone-Can-Play-Guitar] – but very few can make it sound like a choir of disgruntled angels.
because only when they slip the moorings of rock convention and set :
themselves adrift on an ocean of indulgence do radiohead hit the celestial heights that their peers simply cannot reach. in the symphonic movements of â€™[paranoid android->http://www.radiohead.fr/Paranoid-Android]â€™, for example, whose punk-metal blitzkrieg mid-section becomes more heroically flayed with every outing. then thom drifts into the eerie â€™rain downâ€™ refrain like some russian orthodox bishop, improvising gregorian chants over ghostly strings.
a similar effect is achieved with his spine-chilling acoustic opening to â€™[exit music (for a film)->http://www.radiohead.fr/Exit-Music-for-a-film]
â€™, which closes the main set :
, and with the overlapping ghostly harmonies of â€™fade out (street spirit)â€™, the final encore. this isnâ€™t rockâ€™nâ€™roll any more, itâ€™s devotional music : secular hymms, heartfelt psalms for a godless consumer culture. imagine nick caveâ€™s â€™the boatmanâ€™s callâ€™ relocated to a shiny hi-tech supermarket on the outskirts of prozac city. with a xylophone solo in the middle. no wonder â€™OK Computerâ€™ sounds so majestically f—ed-up.
radiohead evaporate, house lights blaze and you are left pondering john tavernerâ€™s extraordinary speech at the mercury awards about â€™annihilating the human egoâ€™ and filling the void with godâ€™s love. god loves his children too…
rock music hasnâ€™t dared be this serious for decades. but with the likes of the verve and spiritualized as contemporaries, radiohead are spearheading something brave and magnificent. as long as they donâ€™t get too happy or too slick, these prog-tastic suburban hymms will keep assaulting the nationâ€™s nervous system.