Concert Review: Radiohead @ The O2 Arena, London, England (plus setlist)

Radiohead finally hit London for their first of two shows last night. They are touring their February 2011 album, The King of Limbs, which takes on a new life live, with the addition of second drummer Clive Deamer. PeteHatesMusic recently saw them at Optimus Alive in Portugal, but seeing them in an arena and on their home turf is something entirely different.

The last time we saw them, they were performing one of their first shows after the death of drum tech Scott Johnson. The band have had some time to recover and hopefully push the tragedy to the back of their mind, and focus on putting on an amazing show. They are also trying to erase the memories of Cheryl Cole playing at the O2 the night before.

Radiohead teamed with Ticketmaster to try and prevent ticket touts from getting their grubby paws on Radiohead tickets to re-sell. The only way to get your tickets were to produce your credit card at the door, and have all of your party members with you to enter. This meant you had to wait for everyone to arrive before you could go, or if someone bought you tickets as a gift, they needed to be going to the gig with you. A bit of a disastrous system, that had massive queues, crowd and employee confusion, and other stuff that caused PHM to miss openers Caribou. We did catch them at Optimus Alive, but were looking forward to seeing them in an arena setting as well.

Radiohead entered the stage around 8:45pm to a jumbled audio loop of vocals, that cut out as the band came out on stage and kicked off with opener, Lotus Flower. Despite being the one and only video from The King of Limbs, the song didn’t get as strong as a crowd reaction as I thought it deserved.

Next up was 15 Step. The end of the song had a bit of a different feel, which reminded me of the chaotic noise ending of Airbag.

Radiohead’s stage show consisted of 12 screens hovering towards the back of the stage, and 6 other square screens placed up high. There were also some lights that were reminiscent of the In Rainbows tour. The cool thing about the 12 screens was that they were constantly moving and repositioning throughout the set.

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

The King Of Limbs opener Bloom followed, and so did the quietness and lack of movement from the subdued crowd. I tried looking around where I was on the floor, but it didn’t seem like anyone was rocking out. The tune started off a little slower until it exploded part way into the song. Having 3 people on drums for this song was awesome.

After the song, and after many songs, the 6 screens high above the stage began showing QR Codes. I took some pictures of them but haven’t scanned them yet – anyone know where they take you? Can you please say it’s

Thom acknowledged the crowd for the first time, noting “thanks for coming – there’s a shitload of you!” Indeed there was.

One of my least favourite studio tracks, Kid A, followed, with another version of the vocal distortion that prevents me from liking the track. It made him sound more robotic than the studio version.

Post-King of Limbs (but should’ve been on King of Limbs) single, The Daily Mail, followed, with Thom announcing that “it’s a quality newspaper.” Laughter ensued from the crowd and then Thom, and he had to briefly stop playing. The mid-song climax is just as powerful live as it is on the single. After the song, Thom asked us to “cheer just so we know you’re there. Oh you’re not cardboard cutouts.” Not all of us I don’t think.

Live favourite Myxomatosis got Thom dancing, followed by the first of 2 songs on the night from OK Computer – Climbing Up the Walls.

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

Another song from Hail to the Thief that the band like playing live showed up – The Gloaming. Thom’s voice was cleverly looped during parts of the song.

Separator was up next, followed by a random song that was released between In Rainbows and The King of Limbs – These Are My Twisted Words. Thom stated that he was “Not sure how familiar you are with our stuff, but this is a song called These Are My Twisted Words”. Having never seen the band perform this song live, the lengthy instrumental opening was definitely rockin’ and impressively in sync during the complex guitar parts.

Like Spinning Plates has become a live fan favourite, having morphed from an electronic studio song with backwards vocal samples to a piano version that elevates the song. This was followed by the equally beautiful Nude, and you got the sense that the band and the set was beginning to move up a few notches. The song garnered the first really loud applause of the night, and the band seemed taken aback by it.

One of the new songs that Radiohead have been floating around this tour made an appearance in the form of Identikit. “We wrote this one a few months ago. It’s called Identikit.” The song features 2 drummers with complex parts, and significant backing vocal parts by Ed O’Brien. It really is an excellent song, and is a hybrid of the synth and electronic of the past decade versus the guitars of the 90s, mixed with warm, In Rainbows harmonies. Based on that description, you either have no clue what it sounds like, or think it’s the best song ever.

Karma Police is usually saved for an encore, but was played next, serving up the inevitable crowd singalong. The mainly instrumental Feral followed, proving to the doubters that yes, the song does have some lyrics.

The last song of the regular set was the always-thumping Idioteque, with Thom continuing to be animated and jumping around the stage to the beats. Colin Greenwood (who looks a lot like Roy Keane these days) was especially key on his bass on this track.

The encore opened up with a personal favourite of mine in Pyramid Song. Oddly, there was a random, quick drum loop quietly played during the intro that was clearly a mistake. Maybe someone was prepping for another song? Jonny Greenwood broke out the violin bow to play on his guitar, making spooky yet beautiful noises over Thom’s unorthodox piano part, with Phil Selway’s drums making a crashing intro to the song about halfway through.

Another post-King of Limbs single was played, Staircase, which was the song to first feature second drummer Clive Deamer with the band in studio (and who has now joined them for this tour and plays on about half of the songs). The video screens cleverly lined up like a staircase above the band.

Morning Mr Magpie was next, with it’s upbeat and relentless guitar assault on our ears. As the night drew closer to the end, you could really see the evolution of the band from a rock band, to an electronic and almost dance band, with the crowd dancing more than rocking out for more of the night. Thom even looked at the crowd and commented “All this and it’s Monday night.”

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

Radiohead live at The O2 Arena in London, England (copyright: PeteHatesMusic)

Despite the idiot near me yelling out and requesting this song for the past hour, the band finally played Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. This was followed by the always beautiful Reckoner. Fuck this song is so good. Even though Thom was 21 songs into the night, he still nailed his falsetto vocals throughout the song, and especially at the end of the track. This concluded encore number 1.

Encore 2 kicked off with just Thom and Jonny, playing Give Up the Ghost. The band looped Thom’s vocals and crowd clapping and layered these sounds against Thom singing the main part of the song, which was very cool. Then towards the end of the song, there were 2 live loops of Thom’s vocals, with him singing another part live. It almost seems like cheating, but it was cool to hear.

The big crowd favourite, and the one where the band totally let loose was for There There. Who needs verse/chorus/verse/chorus when you can write an amazingly original rock song like There There? It’s always nice to see FOUR percussionists on a song, as Ed and Jonny joined the mix. The band concluded their 2 hour, 5 minute show with a brief introduction of R.E.M.’s The One I Love, which segued into Everything in Its Right Place.

As when I saw Radiohead in Portugal, I felt that they had a bit of a slow start to their set, by losing a lot of the crowd with songs like Kid A, Myxomatosis, and the excellent (but barely known) The Daily Mail. I’m a die hard Radiohead fan, but zero songs from the Bends, and 2 from OK Computer (but only 1 single) seems like a bit of a fuck off to the casual fan. That being said, the songs were generally well received, with a strong string of songs towards the middle and end of the set. The video screens were used effectively (except when pointing straight down) and the enigmatic Thom Yorke had his dancing shoes on and his singing voice in fine form. I’m curious to what Aaron Paul (Jesse from Breaking Bad) and the man formerly known as Mr. James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) thought of the show. And no, I won’t make a lazy “bitch!” joke – I’m too strung up on crystal meth to do that.

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PHM Rating for Radiohead: 9.0 out of 10

Setlist for Radiohead @ The O2 Arena, London, England – Monday, October 8, 2012

1-Lotus Flower
2-15 Step
4-Kid A
5-The Daily Mail
7-Climbing Up the Walls
8-The Gloaming
10-These Are My Twisted Words
11-Like Spinning Plates
14-Karma Police

Encore 1
17-Pyramid Song
19-Morning Mr Magpie
20-Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Encore 2
22-Give Up the Ghost
23-There There
24-Everything in Its Right Place

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10 Responses

  1. Gemma says:

    Hi, accurate review I’d say. I was seated in the fourth block (at the top) and as much as I liked the small square screens it was a shame they didn’t use bigger screens so you could see Jonny going mental on the drums. Tickets weren’t exactly cheap to be sitting really far away! The last time I saw Radiohead was 15 years ago in a significantly smaller venue, so although their music continues to be great, I agree that to leave out a portion of their earlier stuff was a bit disappointing. Can’t have everything though.

  2. Ben says:

    Was at the concert last night….have only seen Radiohead twice, so found this to be a fair, relevant and detailed review from someone who obviously knows their Radiohead!

    Good work.

  3. Melinda says:

    Great review, only comment is “but zero songs from the Bends, and 2 from OK Computer (but only 1 single) seems like a bit of a fuck off to the casual fan.” My opinion is that you don’t choose “casually” to go and see Radiohead, you go for the genius and the variety and if you are lucky you might get a “golden oldie”. They met all of my expectations last night (have have every time I have seen them) and I can’t wait to get there again tonight. Who knows when we will see them tour again!

    Great review though!

  4. pete says:

    The reason I mentioned the ‘casual fan’ part is the friend I went with only knew 3 of their songs! He was the exact definition of the casual fan. On the way out, some people said ‘Best show ever’ while others lamented the lack of ‘Paranoid Android, Street Spirit’, etc.

    I’ve seen them a dozen times, and am used to their varied setlists. People who go because they’ve heard good things (i.e.: my friends, from me) might’ve been disappointed in not knowing more songs. That being said, he enjoyed the show a lot.

  5. gary says:

    I have to disagree. I attended the gig last night and am a longstanding fan. Whilst I appriciate Radioheads continual attempts to create new and uncommercial sounds, I think that they and some of the crowd have become somewhat dillusional. I truly belive Thom could cough and people would clap. Lotus flower and codex aside, king of limbs was not a great album and no comparisan in In Rainbows (possibly my favourite Radiohead album). I would argue also that when Radiohead did play the very rare older material and songs off In Rainbows, that seemed to receive the most rapturous applaus – what does that tell you?? It tells me that not all of the fans want to hear just the new stuff and given the rare occasion that they decide to do a gig and the large amounts people pay to see it, perhaps Radiohead could consider what the fans want rather than what they want! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the show but it was a far cry from when they played at Victoria Park in Hackney. I found myself looking at my watch twice during last nights gig I am ashamed to say and found myself dissapointed when I left.

    • pete says:

      That’s almost always the case at a concert – older hits getting a bigger applause. Because of the way Radiohead release stuff (rarely videos and no singles), newer stuff will likely always be received this way.

      I do agree In Rainbows is far superior to King of Limbs, and while I do actually like the King of Limbs, I wish the band would play to the crowd a little more.

  6. SkunkMunkey3000 says:

    Was it only me (and my gf) who thought the sound quality was pretty poor for those on the top stand? So much of the melody and vocals were completely drowned out by distorted bass, could tell the band were on form but the sound was just a bit off.

  7. Meredith says:

    I was at the show both nights on the rail and it’s a much different vibe upfront. No one seemed to notice the tame, lackluster crowd behind us and everyone was completely into it. To be fair, Radiohead has been on the road for over six months now and while setlists have been varied here and there, there are maximum 4-5 songs from the Bends/OKC played. For the ‘casual’ fan who goes and expects greatest hits, it’s not happening. The hard core fans are sick of Karma Police, Gloaming, and ending with EIIRP, while some casual fans think KP is so great. RH can’t please everyone.
    I agree with Melinda that you see Radiohead for the genius and any ‘surprise’ is a bonus. This is my 10th show on this tour and they have not disappointed me. Night 2 rocked…second night is almost always better.

  8. pete says:

    10th show this tour? Holy smokes!

    I totally agree that RH can’t please everyone, and I was not disappointed. I just didn’t want to write the review as a huge Radiohead snob, and since I went with a casual fan, I tried to appeal to them, too.

    Cheers for reading.

    • Meredith says:

      Yes, 10 times and I started with the Roseland shows in September last year, then a couple of US shows, Nimes, Italy, and now London. From my observation, they have progressed significantly on this tour in spite of the Toronto incident. In Antwerp, Thom hit all of the notes and the whole performance was flawless, almost too perfect.

      Back to the London shows, It felt like RH performed night 1 for the hard core fans who would appreciate LSP and TAMTW while they brought out more ‘hits’ on the second night (PA, Street Spirit, Airbag). Cheers.