Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)
After playing their first show on home soil in 2017 with a gargantuan Glastonbury headline slot, beloved Oxford five-piece Radiohead returned to Manchester to play a colossal headline show at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. It must be noted that this was not the band’s original choice of venue, they had been scheduled to play 2 nights at the MEN Arena, but after the tragedy that occurred at Ariana Grande’s gig there, the Arena could not re-open in time so 2 nights at the Arena became one night at the cricket ground.
If you know anything about Radiohead fans, you’ll know how religiously they worship the band, which meant many (including myself) had bought tickets for both nights at the Arena, and now the band had to essentially play 2 gigs’ worth in one night. In front of “a lot of fucking people” as Thom Yorke put it (26,000 to be exact). No pressure lads.
What has made the band’s A Moon Shaped Pool tour so special is the unpredictability of the setlist: so many tracks which the art-rock outfit have previously blacklisted are now highlights of the set, which changes radically from night to night. In Manchester, Radiohead relegated usual opener Daydreaming to the first encore, and opened on the long-shelved Let Down, my personal favourite Radiohead track which went down a treat live.
Let Down serves as a sign of things to come as the early stages of the set are dominated by OK Computer tracks, with 3 of the first 4 tracks coming from the 1997 masterpiece. Only after Airbag do the band start to shift through their esteemed discography. 15 Step and Myxomatosis in quick succession allow Thom Yorke to put his guitar down for the first time and start his truly unique dancing, which has reached true meme status now in the Radiohead fanbase, which the smirks and laughter in the crowd reflect.
The setlist seems crafted to stop the show ever finding one groove or mood, reflected by the fact that All I Need’s clap-along rhythm is followed by the sombre and stark (but beautiful) Pyramid Song. An early rendition of No Surprises soon follows, featuring Jonny Greenwood on xylophone, and generates the most satisfying cheer of the night, following the lines “bring down the Government/ they don’t speak for us”, which feels particularly apt in the shitshow of UK politics at the minute.
Towards the end of the main set, the band really build up a head of steam, with Idioteque, Bodysnatchers and 2+2=5 debunking the “Radiohead are depressing” myth and allowing the band to showcase their heavier side (and Yorke to showcase more dance moves, particularly on Kid A’s Idioteque).
The band walked off to raptourous applause, and returned with the subtle combination of Daydreaming and Nude, at which point the band are basically just showing off how versatile their discography is. Speaking of versatility, the highlight of encore 1 is Paranoid Android, the band’s wonky, heavy version of Bohemian Rhapsody, where Jonny Greenwood’s guitar solo is enhanced by psychedelic graphics on the band’s screen.
By the time the second encore comes, you’d expect the band to be in serious “greatest hits” territory but elect to begin with the drum-heavy There, There, from Hail To The Thief. If that wasn’t enough of a curveball, it is followed by unreleased OKNOTOK track I Promise and The Bends (the actual song The Bends!!) which Yorke jokes “This should be a treat, if we remember how to play it”.
No surprises, Radiohead pull it off effortlessly and by the time final track Karma Police rolls around, Yorke et al have 26,000 people in the palm of their hands – or in Yorke’s man bun. Anywhere Radiohead want them actually, evidenced by the fact the crowd stayed put after the band had left, singing Karma Police’s iconic “for a minute there/ I lost myself” refrain. You wouldn’t blame anyone for a second if they had.