Radiohead are maybe too bright, too cool, too thoughtful to do triumph. Certainly when I see them in Ippodromo delle Cascinee, Firenze that’s one of the thoughts I’m left with.
This not to say they were in any way a disappointment – quite the reverse. I’m psyching myself up here to make the argument that Radiohead (as Pil allegedly once did, with music) went right past triumph.
The venue, immediately west of the spectacular cultural honey-pot that is Duomo City/Uffizi City/Michelangelo’s David City was impressively good-natured, given the enormity of the gig. 55,000 (with all due respects) just for Radiohead. Some booze, some dope, some annoying pushers-towards-the-front but mainly an energy-flow entirely appropriate to the parkland, Arno-side setting.
Yes, the intelligentsia. And yes a mixed, international crowd. Mainly Italians – obviously – mainly disinterested in support James Blake.
I would have felt sorrier for JB but for the very personal feeling that he was dull: that if you’re ploughing the singery-songwritery soulful geezer with pleasantly diverting things to say furrow then you really better have some searingly beautiful or excitingly challenging things to say. Maybe especially if you actually sound a bit like you’re in love with the main act.
Folks around me passed the time in chatter, or by gently exercising limbs they knew would later be either active or aching or both; legs, feet.
James Blake was fine but I can’t imagine why anybody would want to see him/them live. Not outdoors, at a festival – not unless they wanted to sleep, or snooze, in the sun, before gathering for the pardee some time later. I repeat that I barely do mellowness and move on.
After one of those waits overflowing with incongruously malicious references to guitar roadies – surely for fuck’s sakes he’s tuned that seven times! – Radiohead. In Florence, in a balmy park.
Going to swerve the set-list (which I imagine will see them through Glasto and beyond?) because… why spoil things? Will, however, say that things open with two recent numbers, from the MoodMusicacious Moon-shaped Pool. The first challenge.
It’s low-key – or relatively – it’s quietly, authoritatively bold. They know and we know they could have Tuscany frothing if they’d opened with Creep! Radiohead choose their way differently.
It’s melodic and beautifully executed. Yorke is absurdly note-perfect, given the fact that the songs are simply bloody tough to sing – near impossible for us blokey mortals. Crucially (for me) there is nothing masturbatory-placatory or obvious about any of this. As the gig shimmers and gathers and places its prisms beneath our feet, we are not experiencing the soporific.
Instead we get a firework display. No – we get an expressive lightshow and a run of commanding, explosive anti-songs. We get proper Radiohead.
I expected this but somehow this is the principle expectation they exceed. They know that at any moment they can launch the event somewhere different, somewhere Rockier, more Triumphant. They eschew this option, magnificently.
Ok, we could argue that Radiohead don’t do hits; that their ‘anthems’ are hardly Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. This is true. But the running order of this gig – plus the reinvention of certain numbers, plus the commitment to the fiercely angular – marked out an extraordinary level of faith in what they do.
Radiohead do challenge. They annihilate the idea that music is ear-candy. They write intelligent noises but noises you’re gonna have to work at (listener). In Firenze they were soo-perlatively right on mission.
The players in the band – whom I’ve heard are so crazy into-it they’re almost completely barking – fabulously execute. The show is stunning, the racket intense, almost defiantly monotone at the mid-point, with spangly, ripped-up riffs and twiddles and demonic, headshaking vocals.
The crowd love it… but not in that normal, easy-ecstatic way. The response is muted, is subtler than yer average blowout. And then they (the band) stop.
There are (minor spoiler alert) two encores. Firstly a bunch of wonderful ‘songs’ then a break and then two or three(?) more.
Tonight there’s a stand-out, wonderful singalong moment but don’t expect too many fag-lighters (or iphones) illuminating the dumb adulation. There is no dumb adulation. There’s more a coming together as the band recognise that most of the audience get it, get off on that… and us punters give something back. Just not crazy whoops and fistpumps.
I love the guitar-playing in Radiohead. The way it bolts and flashes and twinkles but rarely simply grooves. Tonight this was (almost shockingly) only one of the stunning slabs building the noise.
Two drumkits, loopy, monumental bass and the dancetronic divertogizmos. All weaving and throbbing and denying the banal. Either winkling something out or blasting a hole or laying some magic, be-jewelled carpet.
Probably we have to acknowledge Yorke’s magnificent singing – though it doesn’t feel right to offer this absolute primacy.
Our Thom is looking slightly worryingly artsy – flamenco student? French poet? – what with that naff sub-pony barnet but… the boy comes through, bigtime. It can only be from him that the yearning and caring and hurt and political charge truly springs. And it does, powerfully, for hours.
Enough. Radiohead sound immaculate but they also have soul. We walk out through the park fired up and clear that a) music matters b) things can be rich and deep, and magical, without conciliating.