REVIEW: Radiohead’s abstract rock splits opinion in Manchester

Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke
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Diehards look away now.

For as much as I’d love to say Radiohead put on an epic set in Manchester last night, the whole thing completely failed to step out of its own discordant cacophony until it was too late for this listener.

After a divisive set at Glastonbury (which I rather enjoyed from the comfort of my sofa), the Oxford five piece brought their Moon Shaped Pool tour to the north and put on a mystifying show on front of 50,000 fans.

A change of venue after the attack at Manchester Arena saw the original two nights brought into one huge gig at Emirates Old Trafford.

But by the time Thom and Co took to the stage at 8pm thousands of people were still queuing up outside and the atmosphere never really got going.

OK Computer classic Let Down kicked off proceedings before the show descended into a mass of abstract electronica, static interference and punishing loops and swirls. We all know Radiohead can be a tad obtuse and they didn’t disappoint on that front - but they just failed to bring the crowd along with them for most of the two and a half hour set.

Fair enough, challenging convention is what they do and nobody was expecting an X Factor hits parade.

But blimey. Give us a break. It’s all very worthy. And in a tight space or over your headphones Radiohead’s alienating post-rock can be totally absorbing but it’s lost in a venue this size.

And judging from the disinterested faces and shoe gazing going on around me, I wasn’t alone.

Radiohead have loads of bona fide anthems that can pull a crowd this size together in an instant. And truth be told, they even played a load of them. Karma Police, No Surprises, I Promise, Paranoid Android, Fake Plastic Trees all littered a set that on paper looks epic.

But for every song that started to get the stuttering party going, it was followed by another boring, dirge of abstract noise and confusion.

The crowd began to thin well before the first of two encores. And to be honest they missed the best bit.

Paranoid Android, Fake Plastic Trees, There There, I Promise, The Bends and Karma Police all wrapped up the uneven set but it was too little too late for many people, hundreds of which were already in their cars.

I’m sorry. I’ve loved Radiohead since I first began murdering High and Dry on my acoustic guitar as a teenager in the 90s.

And while there is a place for their latter day abstractions, sometimes you don’t want to have to give so much to enjoy a concert.

Their challenging music can make Radiohead difficult to love. And while many tried to love it last night, I reckon, if they are honest with themselves, more failed than succeeded.

I know I did.