Live review

Corn Exchange, Edinburgh : 21.5.2003

Radiohead - Click to enlargeOutside Edinburgh's Corn Exchange complex, eager Celtic fans gathering to watch the big match mingle with Radiohead's international travelling fanbase, intent on a different kind of celebration. Fans from as far afield as New England, Japan and California queue patiently under lowering Scottish skies for a place front of stage.

Yet Radiohead are a band intent on sidestepping idolatry. As they release the tribal swirl of new single There There, there's not so much a sense of awe in the crowd as affectionate recognition. Radiohead are greeted not as rock gods, but as old friends.

Radiohead - Click to enlargeThe band weave ten tracks from new album Hail To The Thief into a tapestry that reinterprets the studio confections of 'difficult' albums Kid A and Amnesiac, and revisits live classics from The Bends and OK Computer. They're in relaxed, wisecracking mode; subsiding into laughter when Jonny Greenwood inserts a Noel Coward piano flourish into Karma Police, conducting the crowd for We Suck Young Blood, underlining a false start with Thom Yorke's acid, "It helps if we all start at the same time." Meanwhile, guitarist Ed O'Brien manfully keeps the Scots contingent updated with the progress of Celtic's struggle against Porto.

It's all very informal - yet there are moments of rare intensity, too. Elderly crowd-pleasers Paranoid Android and My Iron Lung are played with revivalist fervour, and Radiohead's new hymn to hope Sail To the Moon soothes the sweating crowd to a hushed, religious stillness. If this is a friendly, low-key treat for the devoted, it never fails to deliver the power that projected this band into arena megastardom.

Radiohead - Click to enlargeRadiohead is a bunch of disparate individuals who - these days, at least - provide one of the most united fronts in music. Bassist Colin Greenwood projects wry amusement from the back of the stage while his brother Jonny's angular fragility recalls a saint from a Caravaggio altarpiece. Scuttling crabwise from vintage modular synth to guitar to glockenspiel, his keening soundscapes and anarchic solos lend extra edge to the less familiar material. Drummer Phil Selway, ironically dressed as a pinstripe-suited accountant, steadily underpins the chaos without removing his jacket.

Radiohead - Click to enlargeAt one time in Radiohead's career their frontman Thom Yorke seemed in a world of his own making onstage. Now the defences are down. But his new friendliness has an edge of danger; his half-smiles distorting unexpectedly into grimaces, his eye contact with the crowd generous and confrontational by turns. In the shamanic Idioteque his tiny frame seems caught up in a perilous power surge, shaken by the force of his own clairvoyant imagery. And in an unexpected outing for B-side Talk Show Host, his calm "You want me? Come on and break the door down" has a steely magnificence.
    Back for the first of two long encores, he delivers the new album's savage closer Wolf At The Door with desperate, prowling ferocity before slamming into the opening chords of the vicious Just.

Radiohead - Click to enlargeThom Yorke has confessed that much of his recent imagery is inspired by what he hears on Britain's Radio 4, the unlikely soundtrack to his life. And in a world dominated by American music and values, Radiohead are not unlike the BBC: endlessly innovative yet strangely dependable, with the power both to reassure and disturb.

:: Clare O'Brien

All pictures courtesy Natalia Kutsepova, Cloud Cuckoo Land

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