THE OLYMPIA DUBLIN MAY 17 2003
The very idea of Radiohead playing in The Olympia Theatre is soaked in irony. Trying to squeeze possibly the most influential and popular rock band in the world into one of Dublin’s smallest venues, at first seems like a bad joke. Then you realise they are being serious, but by that time the 1300 or so tickets for each night have long since vanished. For those lucky enough to have logged onto the w.a.s.t.e site in time, the prospect of seeing the band we have watched grow from playing corner stages in pubs to their own 10,000 capacity tent, in such an intimate setting seems too mouth-watering to be real.
But real it is. And it all began with half of Fridge and all of Four Tet, standing coolly behind two laptops, twiddling buttons and clicking mice and producing a blistering set of laid-back and melodic electronica for around 35 minutes or so, and giving me a severe warning to pick up his latest album Rounds, the next time I’m record shopping, for fear of missing out on something brilliant. In spite of Four Tet’s impressive opening, it was difficult to concentrate fully, and at a quarter to nine the reason for that was made all too apparent. The so-called ‘pied piper of Dublin’ Thom Yorke walked casually out on stage, picked up his guitar and was joined by Ed, Colin, Phil and Jonny. The stage was set, both literally and metaphorically.
The next question asked of them was just how they would open up proceedings and they replied with a truly stunning rendition of their forthcoming single There There. The fact that arguably two of the greatest guitarists in the world right now, Ed O’ Brien and Jonny Greenwood, weren’t actually playing their guitars but instead were armed with drum sticks, encapsulates the very essence of where Radiohead are trying to go. The three-pronged drum assault laid the perfect foundation for Greenwood to swing his electric guitar round for the guitar solo at the end of the song. It was difficult to follow such a masterful performance.
But they did exactly that with an energetic 2 + 2 = 5 (complete with Colin’s jumping up and down during the midsection) and a beautiful Where I End And You Begin. I had been holding out for Thom to deliver the lines “X will mark the place, like a parting of the waves” and it sounded every bit as perfect as I had imagined. Next came a couplet from OK Computer; a savagely brilliant Airbag (in truth, I’d forgotten how good it sounds) and Lucky. Thom Yorke reincarnated his by now famous Ideoteque style dancing in a version of Backdrifts that left the leaked copies circulating round the internet for dead. Similarly the opening track of the first encore, The Gloaming, described by Yorke as “something really light” (the irony continues!), takes on a whole new life in its live guise, with Colin Greenwood’s bassline stretching itself beyond its means.
Dublin was the opening night of their tour and the first time they had played in some time, a fact which Yorke drew attention to several times, and the band seemed consumed with a freshness and a real sense of enjoyment. No less so, when Yorke was poised at the piano for Drunken Punchup at a Wedding, first asking tongue-in-cheek if Irish people drink a lot at weddings, and then having to remind band member Jonny Greenwood that “this one starts with a drum machine”. Laughter ensues, and it’s a welcome reminder that the musical genius Greenwood is human after all and can sometimes make mistakes. Though not very often.
The set was primarily an opportunity to vent material from their imminent album Hail to the Thief, with Myxomatosis, Sit Down Stand Up, Go to Sleep and Sail to the Moon also receiving an airing, and only one survivor from The Bends era, Just. But they hadn’t forgotten to include a generous handful from Kid A and Amnesiac, including a beautifully delivered Pyramid Song with stunning lighting. They also didn’t neglect to give credit to OK Computer with a spectacular Paranoid Android (about people who think that they are musicians because they’ve written 5% of a song), an anthemic Karma Police, complete with full audience participation. The closing salute was given to How to Disappear Completely – certainly the most apposite way to end such a life-defining performance, given the infamous “float down the Liffey” line. I remember the first and only time I saw Radiohead play before tonight, and it blew me away, adding further support to the adage that the first time you see a band play is also the best time. Except for the second time that is.
(thanks to michelle dalton)