Radiohead @ Nottingham Arena, Nottingham, 29th November 2003

Photo © Gig101 2003

Some time earlier this year, Radiohead announced the release of their new album. It was allegedly a return to the anthemic stadium rock of ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’ after several years of attempting to create more challenging, sophisticated sounds. Thom Yorke made a fuss about the conflict in Iraq, sported anti war attire and professed his dislike of the music industry. Radiohead were indeed back.

Fast forward to late November, and I’m standing in a massive arena in the middle of Nottingham, glaring at an electronic ice hockey scoreboard. Ironically, the standard mould of single/album/arena tour is what this band claim to stand against, with Thom Yorke recently declaring that there may be no more Radiohead long players in the future, preferring the medium of experimental EP's.

The band are about to come on after a set from Asian Dub Foundation. News has reached these parts that they played ‘Creep’ a few nights ago at Earl’s Court, so anticipation levels are abnormally high. ‘2+2=5’ gets things off to a flying start, this a demonstration of their move back to playing electric guitars. What follows is a prolonged period of tracks from ‘Kid A’ and the more subdued elements of ‘Hail To The Thief’. This is all very well, but a few of those classic numbers slipped in here and there wouldn’t go amiss. It’s not until Yorke introduces ‘Paranoid Android’ as a song ‘Radio 1 used to play’ that the audience are woken from a deep trance. This is without doubt the highlight of the evening – Johnny Greenwood displays why he is regarded as one of the most accomplished guitarists in rock during the song’s two blistering solos.

Tonight the band seem very intent on exploring the more obscure tracks in their now mammoth catalogue - songs like 'Scatterbrain' and 'The Gloaming' are pleasant enough, but simply don't pack the weighty punch of their more well known offerings. They sit there without really ever taking off and leave the crowd lusting for a slab of old Radiohead. Credit where credit’s due, though – Yorke guides us through a beautiful piano-led rendition of ‘Pyramid Song’, whilst ‘Idioteque’ and ‘There There’ do sound rather fine, the latter made great by tribal drum beats and Greenwood’s magnificent contribution to the song’s finale.

The double encore sees the band finally placate the fans with some Bends era classics. ‘Just’ sees the crowd move around for the first time tonight, and ‘The Bends’ itself is a glorious, melodic exhibition of a side to Radiohead that is sadly not often seen much these days. ‘Street Spirit’ is included, but however mesmerising it may be, sums up the downbeat atmosphere of tonight’s performance.

All in all, it’s a tad disappointing. Some brilliant songs mixed in with tracks that should be listened to during a quiet, reflective period of isolation rather than in a large arena. It hasn't quite been a grand spectacle as expected, more a test drive for the band's more experimental moments. There’s no doubt in anyone's mind that Radiohead are a great band with an abundance of talent, but the exclusion of a large majority of their great tracks (Where was Karma Police/Fake Plastic Trees/No Surprises/Lucky/High And Dry/My Iron Lung?) suggests a degree of arrogance we’ve come to associate with Yorke. There are not a lot of bands that can afford to self indulge in the manner we’ve seen tonight and sadly, Radiohead aren’t an exception. Its been a good gig none the less, but it could have so easily been a triumphant one. Oh, and they didn’t play ‘Creep’.

Set List:

  • 2+2=5

  • Sit Down. Stand Up

  • Morning Bell

  • Where I End And You Begin

  • Kid A

  • Backdrifts

  • I Will

  • The National Anthem

  • A Wolf At The Door

  • Paranoid Android

  • Scatterbrain

  • Airbag

  • Climbing Up The Walls

  • Pyramid Song

  • Idioteque

  • The Gloaming

  • There There

  • Sail To The Moon

  • Just

  • A Punch Up At A Wedding

  • Street Spirit

  • You And Whose Army?

  • The Bends

  • Fog

  • Everything In Its Right Place

    Jeremy Lloyd