I found the notebook that I was carrying on this tour, there’s a lot of blank pages left in it. There are a few scribbled lines trying to capture a conversation, hardly anything about the shows and on one page, Thom’s scratchy handwriting, to remind me to listen to a couple of records.
At the back there are some roughly sketched ideas for how to record my Radiohead adventures:
“Like a post-modern pilgrimage, we travel to witness sound and light transfigured into emotional magic. Primal dancing, whooping and screaming. Adrenaline and fears and toothy grins.”
A bit of bad poetry, no doubt written in the middle of a sleepless hostel night.
I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since.
“It ain’t workin’ chief!” Thom’s having trouble with a guitar and he needs Pete “Plank” Clements to fix it. This phrase tickles me, Thom is giggling as he says it, like an on-tour in-joke. We’ll never know if that’s the case for the band, but it certainly becomes one for me and the gang of RHMB regulars that have turned up in Dublin for these dates at the Olympia, a theatre-sized venue in the centre of the city.
This is a smaller show than they have played for a while, about a tenth the size of the last UK/Ireland shows in the 10,000 capacity tents and the tickets tonight are like gold dust. We, the faithful, however, are used to this.
One friend from London has been camped outside the door since 5am, dressed in army surplus gear. A concerned and intoxicated passer-by has already offered him some food. “It’s OK,” he reassured them, “we’re waiting for Radiohead.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
The queue for these shows is a serious business, a lot of people have come a long way to be here, have gone to great lengths to get these tickets and they want the best vantage point possible once they get inside.
Personally I go through enough turmoil before a gig and standing in the cold all day is not something I enjoy. The first few people will hold their places all day and get the positions on the barrier that they desire. Much as I love that spot, I don’t have the energy, the patience or the kind of will power to make it something I can do without the help of friends.
Tonight there is a system giving wristbands to those with standing tickets so they can stand in a segregated area (“the pit”) at the front. In theory this cuts down on crowd surges and makes it less dangerous to be nearer the stage; people don’t need to push each other around as much. In a venue as small as The Olympia it makes a difference, one of the main reasons to be on the barrier (for me anyway) is to support yourself when everyone behind you is pushing. I get quite near the front but not on the rail as I’d not been prepared to join in with the queuing hierarchy.
Four Tet is once again the support, and once again I picture Kieran Hebden on stage behind his laptop, emailing his nan. In other circumstances his music would be engaging and I’d be dancing, but tonight we’re preserving our energy.
The drums are out on either side of the stage and There There, already an anthem, kicks off the show. It’s a more open song that we’ve been used to from the Kid A era. The reviews talk about Radiohead being emotionally cold, as if you can’t have feelings unless you’re strumming an acoustic guitar, personally I think this is bollocks. Straight into 2+2=5, which is probably one of the songs that had the more orthodox listeners reaching for the their rock dictionaries again, as if Kid A was an aberration.
The press reviews of this show seem to concentrate on the difference between this new material and the old stuff, neglecting to notice how each time Radiohead return to the live arena they bring all their material into line. The new stuff – Where I End And You Begin – segues into Airbag and Lucky and then there is a straight run of HTTT tracks until Just gets an airing near the end of the main set. The band are still quite loose, this is the first show and things are still falling into place with the new material. Thom is playful, but when Jonny lets fly on the noisier songs, he and Colin look on with some bemusement.
The promise of an “intimate atmosphere” has brought people from around the world to these shows, with American fans making a larger than usual showing. Realising what a great time we had on the Iberian tour, and that for the foreseeable future all the US is going to get is stadium shows, compels people to fly in for these dates.
The NME canvassed the queue before the first Dublin show. Some people get a bit carried away and seem to think they’re speaking for everyone, that turning up at 6am makes them special; they obviously get a kick out of it. I’ve met a lot more of these people now, in person or online, and I have friends to hang out with, but as with the rest of my life, I’m not entirely convinced I fit in. I’m less shy than I used to be, more prepared for what being on a tour will take out of me. I know now to travel light, with adequate shoes for hours on my feet; an eye-mask and earplugs to make sleeping in hostels bearable. When it starts to become about the gang of people more than about the band, I get uneasy.
In terms of aftershow, I don’t see anything in Dublin. I take it as read that the band are off into the network of tunnels beneath Dublin that connect Bono’s many properties (I had to do something with my time in the queue, so inevitably I came up with a fiendish scheme about U2 owning the city).
The NME the following week has a quick catch up with the band after the first night. They were a bit shaky, the first one is always unpredictable, it will take a while to bed in the new songs. They’re going to change the set every night as they have so many songs to fit in. Colin, as ever, comes across as the biggest Radiohead fan of them all, “I’ve got a great job.” They’re even talking about how much fun they’re having!