It’s Friday night and Radiohead will soon dazzle Melbourne with a spectacular two hour performance. Such is the anticipation for tonight’s show, earlier a long line is formed outside as diehards try to secure a place as close to the stage as possible.
When tickets went on sale back in March, they sold out in mere minutes. Not surprising given Melbourne has waited eight years for the Oxford icons to return, and with this, the first of two shows at Rod Laver Arena, that wait is finally over.
Sadly, many fans have been dependent on the crude opportunism of scalpers and paid through the roof for their chance to be here. Before their loyalty is rewarded, Thom Yorke-approved support act Connan Mockasin (real name Connan Hosford) drives through a stellar showing of discordant psych pop. Although this is Mockasin’s solo project, it’s drummer Matthew Eccles who steals the show.
Mockasin’s short but sweet performance is the ideal support set and leaves the quickly building Rod Laver Arena crowd wanting more.
After what seems like a lifetime, the most important band of their generation wanders out to a deafening roar. The first song is “Lotus Flower” from their most recent album, The King of Limbs.
Yorke is already grooving freely, reprising his dance moves from the “Lotus Flower” music video and leading the band through a powerful start to proceedings. Then they dive headfirst into “Airbag”, the opening track from their landmark 1997 album OK Computer.
The crowd erupts immediately, but for whatever reason “Airbag” sounds flat tonight – Yorke doesn’t look into it and his voice sounds tentative. It proves to be the only real misstep for the night.
The haunting shuffle of “Bloom” and relative newbie “Staircase” soon follow, with the latter met by puzzled faces in the seated areas. A few songs later Yorke playfully teases the baying audience by playing the opening chord to “Reckoner” – a stunning rendition ensues. If he was a little shaky on “Airbag”, he sounds confident and assured now.
The second OK Computer offering “Climbing Up The Walls” is a swirling epic. A bright green glow encases the stage as Yorke sings, “Open up your skull/ I’ll be there, climbing up the walls.” When the band shifts up a gear, the sudden burst of red light is a sight to behold. Meanwhile Yorke is holding his guitar up to his face, wailing passionately into the pickups.
Colin Greenwood’s bass playing is simply exquisite during the delicate “Nude” and on the floor bodies are now swaying together in a trance. Above the band, 12 movable screens are beaming lucid close-ups out to the audience. The screens are constantly shifting angles for each song and the results are mesmerising.It’s on nights like these that kids are inspired and it’s after shows like this that bands are formed.
There’s a minor exodus for another new cut, “Identikit” and people are still navigating the aisles by the time Greenwood sits down at a Fender Rhodes. After about a second of silence Rod Laver Arena explodes. It’s “Karma Police”.
Outside in the foyer, the “Identikit” deserters are cursing themselves in the line at the bar while inside the audience are wondering whether to sing along or just watch in awe. That question is resolved by the coda: “For a minute there/ I lost myself/ I lost myseeeeeeeeeelf,” they cry in unison.
The volume goes up a notch for the seizure-inducing “Feral”, a disorientating clash of rhythms and sound effects. For those who revelled in the anthemic arms of “Karma Police”, this is more of a challenge. “Bodysnatchers” ends the main set but black t-shirted men are tuning instruments onstage and the audience knows Radiohead aren’t done yet.
When they do return, it’s with the sublime one-two punch of the elegiac “Pyramid Song” and soothing “House of Cards”. Yorke then takes the time to introduce touring second drummer Clive Deamer (of Portishead); who has provided pulsating percussion all night, synchronising masterfully with Phil Selway.
The encore continues with the glitchtronica of “Idioteque” and the downright euphoria of “Paranoid Android”. Yorke bends the vocal melody into unfamiliar shapes on the latter, which makes a cohesive singalong all but impossible. Nonetheless, the crowd still tries valiantly. He’s also squibbing a few notes here and there but no one seems to notice or care. Jonny Greenwood’s long hair hangs down over his face as he slashes menacingly at his guitar, whipping everyone into a frenzy.
The band leaves the stage once more but no one has budged. Yorke and Jonny soon emerge for a beautiful reading of The King Of Limbs’ “Give Up The Ghost”. The frontman kicks at a pedal as he sings, layering his voice over and over again into a one-man, angelic choir.
“15 Step” is a complete and utter triumph. The screens have been lowered to form an artificial roof and it now looks like they’re playing in a well-lit garage. It underscores the mood of the night – this is an arena show but all attempts have been made to create a feeling of intimacy.
An electric piano draped in a Tibetan flag is wheeled out for the entrancing finale, “Everything In Its Right Place”. Before Yorke makes his exit, he rubs his hands together and holds them out to face the audience. ‘You guys are on fire,’ he seems to be saying. The crowd reciprocates.
Everyone remains in place even after the band have left the stage. It’s only once the amps are turned off and the house lights switched on that people reluctantly start to file out.
Now outside in the cold night air, the elated crowd marches jubilantly down Richmond’s Swan Street. Among them, two wide-eyed teenage boys walk arm in arm having just had the time of their lives. It’s on nights like these that kids are inspired and it’s after shows like this that bands are formed.
Simply put, this is why rock music lives on.
Be sure to check out the photo gallery of Radiohead’s 1st night in Melbourne here.