Radiohead at Glastonbury 2017 review – a slow creep towards transcendence

Despite alienating visuals, Thom Yorke’s random chat and an eclectic set that includes a hefty slice of experimental fare, the band leave the crowd satisfied by saving their best till last

At least one member of the vast crowd that assembles for Radiohead’s headlining set has come pre-prepared – he’s carrying a giant orange flag emblazoned with a legend demanding to hear something from deep within the band’s back catalogue: PLAY THE FUCKING BENDS, it reads. Despite his clearly legible plea, it isn’t to be, and, initially at least, it looks like anyone anticipating anything approaching the greatest hits is out of luck as well.

The band’s set starts out in remarkably low-key style, the screens either side of the stage turned off, the band playing a lambent piano ballad. When the screens do come on, they’re showing a pretty abstract interpretation of what’s actually happening on stage – images of Radiohead’s members overlaid with each other, static interference and computer graphics.

It has an oddly alienating effect. If you can’t see the stage itself, what’s actually going on up there remains something of a mystery, not a state of affairs much improved by Thom Yorke’s unique approach to between-song chat: a Derek and Clive-ish rumination on leylines, some stylised laughter, a suggestion that Theresa May “shut the door on [her] way out” and a mumble about “useless politicians” that provokes an inevitable chorus of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of Seven Nation Army from the crowd.

Thom Yorke’s patter ran from leylines to Theresa May.
Chat … Thom Yorke’s patter ran from leylines to Theresa May. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Likewise, the music offers what you might call the full gamut of the Radiohead experience: tracks from OK Computer – Lucky, Let Down, the impossibly sombre Exit Music (For a Film) – interspersed with more abstract latterday material: it’s hard to think of another band that can fill stadiums playing songs as angular and uncommercial as the propulsive clatter of 15 Step and Myxomatosis. But there’s also the sense that the less committed members of the audience are becoming a bit restive. Not even a gorgeous version of Pyramid Song or Everything In Its Right Place seems to placate them: in certain areas at least, the crowd starts to thin out.

But the people who leave have made a mistake. The set achieves vertical takeoff during a thrilling version of Idioteque, while the line in No Surprises about bringing down the government is received with a vast cheer. It’s hard not to be struck by the breadth of what Radiohead can do – from 2+2 = 5’s experimental pulse to the straightforward loveliness of Street Spirit (Fade Out)’s melody to the epic prog rock of Paranoid Android. Given Radiohead’s famously fractious relationship with their first big hit – and it’s almost complete lack of resemblance to the music they went on to make – the performance of Creep is greeted with something approaching astonished delight.

Finally, they play Karma Police: when the song ends, Thom Yorke stays on stage, playing another burst of the song’s coda as the audience bellow along: it’s a genuinely lovely moment, a burst of bonhomie at the end of a set that turned out to be unexpectedly crowdpleasing after all.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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