Kraut-y, Live!

“Radio(head)! Live TRNSMTN”

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the Radio(head).

I saw Radiohead for only the 4th time in 24 years on Friday night. Hardly the most regular of touring bands, it was either stand in a field at day 1 of Scotland’s newest festival, TRNSMT, and wait patiently for the only band worth shelling out £60 for, or watch edited highlights on the telly later that night and mutter silently to myself that I should’ve been there. After failing to secure a coveted press pass – lack of credentials, they said – I shelled out the £60 and went. Which was the correct decision, of course.

Their Glastonbury set a couple of weeks previously fairly split my Facebook feed in half. For every friend purring over their set, there were others spitting venom.”They’re tuneless!” “They don’t play the old stuff!” “They’re just like (spit) this generation’s Pink Floyd!“, shouted as if Pink Floyd were/are the anti-christ or something. The reason John Lydon wore an ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt in 1976 was clear – the progressive, noodling dinosaurs were required to be extinct in order for the new musical youth to crash the party and shake things up somewhat. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that Pink Floyd were barely 10 years into a 40+ year career when Johnny first sported his shirt. And it’s worth noting that until today’s musical youth get their arse in gear and produce a musical movement worthy of shaking up the current regime, your super soaraway Radiohead is as good as it gets.

There are a number of unspoken rules when it comes to headlining a festival. A headliner should play to the crowd. Feature a generous helping of all the big hits. Engage with the audience. Maybe pull a nice-looking girl out of the crowd and dance with her. Radiohead find themselves in the enviable position of being able to do whatever they like and still remain numero uno. They are a walking, talking example of that well worn band cliche of we play what we like and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus. Lucky for Radiohead, hundreds and thousands and millions of folk love ’em. So they take the festival rule book and bin it. They don’t have big hits to begin with. Crowd-favourites, aye, but no real hits. And don’t for one minute think you’ll be pulled from the crowd and serenaded with Creep. Second-on-the-bill Belle & Sebastian did the honours for them when they pulled half the front row out to dance on-stage during their finale, waved off by a cheery Stuart Murdoch saying, “Thanks for coming up and dancing. You do realise you’ve lost your spot for Radiohead though?!?

And as for audience engagement, Thom is certainly not going to say much to a crowd who, for all their love of the band, are shoving Palestinian flags in his face wherever he looks. Glasgow and Scotland, currently the oppressed by the UK Government’s policies on Europe, know a political cause when they see one and they aren’t too taken by Yorke’s stance with the Israeli oppressors. Politics aside though, this was a fantastic show.

Bursts of discordant, eerie music punctuated the air for the half hour or so before Radiohead took the stage. Had one of the band left their Polyfauna app running on random through the PA? It sounded like it. When the band arrive, there’s no fanfare. They stroll on, plug in and begin with the sublime double whammy of Let Down and Lucky. Where Let Down soars, Lucky actually sounds like the slow-motion plane crash that’s sung about in the lyrics. It’s a brilliant opener and when, for the first time tonight a posse of black-clad roadies wheel on a console of the sort the BBC Radiophonic Workshop might’ve worked up some futuristic soundcscapes on, expectations are high for something special. Ful Stop careers into action, all wobbling, juddering, claustrophobic paranoia. “This is a foul-tasting medicine,” mutters Yorke and not for the last time tonight, whole sections of the crowd are looking  a wee bit lost. These’ll be the same people who were moaning about the ‘hit-free’ Glastonbury set. It’s fantastic of course.

Modern Radiohead swap instruments and whole genres as effortlessly as a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat. Ed’s additional vocals and subtle percussive touches keep the music sounding as real as the recorded versions. Johnny – we’re right in front of him and witness up close his skills on a whole array of instruments – is the one who adds splashes of exotic colour to the sound. He goes for the full Spinal Tapisms of bowing the strings on his guitar during Pyramid Song before switching to a string-based contraption played on the keyboard for the song’s coda. Elsewhere, he wrings seven shades of hell from his trusty Telecaster; white noise, chiming, echoing triplets, thunderous power chords, piercing guitar solos, often all in the same song. He’s all jaggy elbows and fringe, but go Johnny go! He’s terrific.

It’s the rhythm section though that is most impressive. Colin wrestles with his bass guitar for a full two and a half hours, noodling the sort of meandering riffs Holger Czukay might’ve employed during his time with Can. For most of the set an addditional drummer skitters along, perfectly complementing Phil’s polyrhythms. At one point, Johnny joins in for some additional percussion that drives the whole thing along towards jazz. Half the audience are thinking ‘pure Mingus’. The other half, the ones that are moving to the sides (“We’ll come back when they play ‘Creep'” I hear one man say to his partner. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…) are thinking ‘pure mingin”. Lotus Flower sounds immense. Thom’s got out his 3 maracas and is shaking them like the anti-Bez – if Bez was all boggle-eyed and limbs akimbo, Thom is a gammy-eyed, hunched up Albert Steptoe in a man-bun – and despite its weird time signature and stop/start clatter, the heads in the audience are bobbing up and down in time to the beat. Everything In It’s Right Place is all cut ‘n paste techno, Johnny sampling Thom’s voice and chopping it up before looping it to eternity via some fancy pants handheld gizmo, the sound skiffling across and out into the ether like some particuarly skilled flat stone skimmer on a west of Scotland beach.


When the guitars come out, the Radiohead juggernaut flies. There There, a brutal 2+2=5, a groovy Bodysnatchers, all examples of why Radiohead are like no other act on the planet. The second half of the set starts with Daydreaming, the set lit up in silvery-white lights. It’s plain and simply breathtaking. Paranoid Android is ridiculously self-indulgent and insular, yet hard rockin’. Not in a Biffy, tops off ‘n tattooes way. Radiohead rock way harder than that particular version of turned up to 11 pop music. They also do subtle. Fake Plastic Trees is understated and fragile before bursting into white noise with the ‘she looks like a ray of sun‘ bit. No Surprises receives a massive cheer right after the ‘Bring down the Government, they don’t speak for us‘ line. And, while we don’t get Creep, we do get a slightly slowed-down Bends, massive power chords ebbing out across the crowd and into the Glasgow night sky. We’re left with Karma Police, Thom and Ed staying back after the rest of the band has gone to conduct the crowd in an acapella rendition of the song’s climax. For a minute there, or two and a half hours to be precise, we lost oursleves.


Debating the setlist in the car on the way home, you could write another 20+ song set of the tracks Radiohead didn’t play. But that’s nit picking. Here’s what they did play:

 

1) Let Down

2) Lucky

3) Ful Stop

4) 15 Step

5) Myxomatosis

6) There, There

7) All I Need

8) Pyramid Song

9) Everything In Its Right Place

10) Reckoner

11) Bloom

12) Identikit

13) Weird Fishes

14) Idioteque

15) The Numbers

16) Bodysnatchers

17) 2 + 2 = 5

[ENCORE 1]
18) Daydreaming

19) No Surprises

20) Lotus Flower

21) Paranoid Android

22) Fake Plastic Trees

[ENCORE 2]

23) Nude

24) The Bends

25) Karma Police

 

*A phone catastrophe on Friday night meant I lost not only all my contacts, but also the dozen or so Radiohead pictures I’d taken for inclusion here. The images I’ve used are all borrowed from Twitter, Instagram and various news sources. If you’d prefer me not to use your image please get in touch and I’ll remove it. Also, if you would like a photo credit please get in touch and I’ll amend. Cheers.

 

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Premium Bonds

Whatever happened to Bond themes? Save the fairly recent Adele effort, Skyfall (which at least attempted to recreate the 60’s heyday of lush orchestration, big vocals and bigger hair), pretty much every Bond theme since A-Ha’s The Living Daylights has been as sexy as yesterday’s Daily Mail.

Radiohead’s recent statement that the Bond franchise people had preferred Sam Smith’s idea of the Spectre theme to their own kinda sums it all up. It’s now lowest common denominator, appeal to the masses stuff, rather than edgy and out there. Perhaps this is a reflection, a metaphor for Bond himself. Once edgy and out there, he’s now lowest common denominator action hero, appealing to the masses with his suits, gadgets and beautiful women, just like yer Farrells, Damons and the rest of them.

radiohead rainbow

Radiohead‘s theme is fantastic. Released for free on Christmas day without fanfare or prior warning, as is the Radiohead way, it’s edgy and paranoid, Thom Yorke’s falsetto surfing over the top of a heavily orchestrated backing track. “I’m lost, I’m a ghost. Dispossesed, taken host,” he wails, right eye no doubt twitching uncontrollably on the off beat.

RadioheadSpectre

It fades in on a sweep of Bond-ish strings, not quite but almost playing that well-ingrained Barry motif. A piano holds the rhythm as a set of jazz drums straight outta the John Barry 7 skitter around the background. There’s the dramatic part in the middle when the strings soar and stab and jar until its brought back to earth with Yorke’s vocals about ‘bullet holes‘ and ‘mortal souls‘ and so on. Then, just as you’re getting the measure of it, it’s gone in a sudden brass stab and some wind tunnel effects. “The only truth that I can see is when you put your lips to these.” It’s by far the most Bondish of Bond themes in recent years and it was rejected.

Radiohead weren’t the only ones to fall foul of the rejection slip. Tom Jones’ brassy hip-swingin’ theme to Thunderball was chosen over a clip-clopping Johnny Cash effort. Considering the era, the producers got this spot on. Bond. Brass. Swinging London. Or the Man In Black singing roll ’em, roll ’em, roll ’em rockabilly country?

Blondie felt the sting of rejection when they submitted their theme for For Your Eyes Only. Sheena Easton’s at times out of tune and none-more-80s syrupy wallow got the nod ahead of the Noo Yoikers’ twangingly pedestrian (and frankly forgettable) mid-paced clunker. You can find it if you wish on late-era Blondie LP ‘The Hunter‘. Again, you have to say the producers got this spot on. You’re probably singing Sheena Easton’s version to yourself right now. And that’s something I never thought I’d be typing on Plain Or Pan.

By the mid 90s, anyone popular in music seemed to be draped in the Union Jack and aligned to some establishment-friendly updated idea of Swinging London. All manner of bands were discovering trumpets and strings and enhancing their weedy indie with overblown orchestration. I’m fond of some of it – Blur’s To The End, for example, and the opening track to Mansun’s debut album, but much of it was totally irrelevant.

jarvis

Masters of the era were Pulp and Saint Etienne, both acts steeped in pop culture and history, with subtle nods to the unfashionable corners of the 70s, eyebrows permanently arched. Both submitted tracks for consideration as the theme to Tomorrow Never Dies. Both were rejected. Pulp’s was retitled Tomorrow Never Lies and found its way onto the b-side of the Help The Aged single. It’s not a bad tune, but alongside the stellar catalogue of existing Bond themes, it’s weedy and thin and very mid 90s indie by comparison.

PulpTomorrow Never Lies

Incidentally, Help The Aged‘s parent album This Is Hardcore featured the track Seductive Barry. Either it was a song in celebration of the great arranger’s soundtracking or it was about a brown ‘n beige bri-nylon clad 2 up/2 down boy about town. With Jarvis you never know.

saint etienne

Saint Etienne‘s effort is more in keeping with the idea of a Bond theme; sweeeping orchestration, some wah-wah, breathy vocals, tinkling keyboards. Unfortunately it also suffers from sounding very of its time. A Bond theme should be timeless, peerless and ageless. Saint Etienne’s track most certainly isn’t. In fact, it sounds like something Dubstar might’ve rejected on the grounds of being too flimsy and wishy washy. The track has made just the most fleeting of appearances, being included only on 1999 fan club compilation Built On Sand.

Saint EtienneTomorrow Never Dies

The band claim that Bond du jour Pierce Brosnan owns the master tape of the track, saying it’s “seven times better than Sheryl Crow“, who’s song went on to lead the film. Really?!? Pinch of salt, surely. I’d have thought the Bond people could’ve found someone better than Sheryl Crow at the time. David McCalmont perhaps, who certainly knew a thing or two about a Bassey-inflected vocal range.

amy-winehouse

The one that really did get away though was Amy Winehouse. She was in the middle of lurching from one personal crisis to another and was passed over in favour of Jack White & Alicia Keys, who were chosen to duet the lead for the Quantum Of Solace film. Had Amy got herself together, she’d have been perfect for such a job. Composer David Arnold had worked out a contemporary orchestrated sixties-influenced piece for her and Mark Ronson sat patiently in the producer’s chair, golden touch unused. Amy’s ongoing problems meant that track was never completed.

They should’ve used Amy’s Love Is A Losing Game instead. Richly orchestrated, full of clipped guitar and bathed in pathos and heartbreak, it was the Bond theme wot got away. Amy’s voice is superb throughout.

Amy WinehouseLove Is  A Losing Game

Imagine it playing as those famous images of the silhouetted naked girls float and swim across the silver screen, then ‘see’ the camera pan downwards at the final string flourish to reveal Bond in some far-off desert or window ledge or hotel bedroom, licensed to kill and licensed to thrill. The best of the Bond themes that never were.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

‘Head Music

Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?

Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..

radiohead2

I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.

These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;

From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.

yorke

Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;

simple minds early

Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines.  Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.

Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.

Theme For Great Cities

This Earth That You Walk Upon

 

Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?

radiohead app

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing…

…said Neil Tennant a few years back. I don’t normally post new stuff very often (if at all – I can’t actually think of any track that’s made it onto this site that’s been less than a year old*) but I’m making a couple of exceptions tonight.

Flaming Lips

I feel the need to share two hot-off-the-press brand new tracks that have been tickling my fancy the past couple of days. First up, the Flaming Lips. The mid-west psychedelic pioneers have an album out on 13th October and this track has been promoed to radio. Silver Trembling Hands sounds as good as it sounds. Wonky, weird and wonderful. And the best use of computerised falsetto since Prince was last any good.

Feeling_Pulled_Apart_by_Horses_-_The_Hollow_Earth[1]

Next, old twitchy eye himself Thom Yorke. He’s just put out Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses and it too sounds as good as it sounds. Out on 12″ only, you can buy it via Radiohead’s W.A.S.T.E. website. Or (wink wink) you can get it here. A quick word before we talk about the music. See that sleeve? If you squint, I swear it looks like the cover to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. If Carlsberg did remixes of album covers…

 In Rainbow‘s Reckoner was apparently constructed from the best bits of the track. The cynical Radiohead-hating numbskulls among you might be thinking that there are no best bits on a low-key Thom Yorke release, but that’s where you’d be wrong. It sounds exactly the same as the cut ‘n paste nerdy laptop techno that has watermarked most of Radiohead’s releases this decade. It bangs and crashes in all the right places, Thom spits cryptical nonsense over the top (“insect bites, machine gun cameras“) and the bassline is funkier than Bootsy Collins’ platform boots. If its verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/end you’re looking for, you’ll not find it here. If it’s brainiac ambient soundscapes that penetrate your brain while you spreadsheet, jog or wash the dishes, step right in….

Bonus track!

Wouldn’t it be great if the Flaming Lips covered Radiohead? Oh look – they already have! Here‘s their version of Knives Out. Warning –  all trace of the original’s quasi Queen Is Dead-era chiming electric guitar has vanished and been replaced instead with a Flaming Lip who hammers away at a piano with all the finesse of a one-armed arthritic Neil Young on jellies. S’good!

*oh aye. I did put an MGMT track up once. Before it had even been released. On. The. Ball.

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

Creepy Prince

Shhhhhh! Listen! That sound you can hear is the sound of a million Radiohead fans tapping furiously on their iMac 4G Powerbooks as they vent their spleen on the umpteen thousand Thom Yorke Is God fansites that litter every corner of cyberspace. 

Prince is a bit creepy. Everyone knows that. But by far the biggest highlight of the recent Coachella festival seems to have been him doing a straight ahead cover of Radiohead‘s ‘Creep‘. It’s true! It’s also very good. Fairly faithful to the original, Prince manages to be both Thom Yorke with added soul and those wee yelps that he’s fond of doing and Jonny Greenwood with the kerrunk-kerrunk guitar before the chorus. His vocals get the full on Purple Rain-era treatment – slight delay, lots of reverb, the exteeeeeeeeendeeeed outro, and I actually think Prince makes this track his own. The audio is taken from this mobile phone video that YouTube won’t show. But it’s reasonably good quality. Worth the download. Click on the video link and you can download the video from there.

Radiohead fans yesterday.

Spot the one that quite likes Prince’s version.