A ramshackle bunch of us roll up to catch the train to Manchester from Edinburgh in the morning. Some more hungover than others.
The gig is at The Apollo. I’ve not been here since 1996 when I came down for the T in the Park warm up show, Manchester has changed a lot since then. We didn’t arrive early enough to queue, but there is room to dance near the sound desk and a bunch of us prefer to stay there rather than brave the crush.
The intro of Where Bluebirds Fly heralds the band’s arrival on the stage – there’s no Four Tet tonight.
Despite being a “small” venue, the shape of the Apollo (old cinema with a high ceiling and wooden floor) gives a weird hollowness to proceedings.
There There is a fixture as the opener on this tour. There is already singing along. Jonny has developed a way of slinging his guitar across his back then twisting it back just in time for his climactic solo. 2+2=5 goes by fast; The National Anthem, Orwellian voices from Jonny’s radio then rumbling, muttering moaning. I do my head down shuffle and shake dance.
“Alright?” Thom speaks and gets a cheer. Morning Bell, propels me into more dancing. Lucky’s intro is all chills. Backdrifts is introduced as a new song. I have to remember that for most people these songs really are new. It skitters into life and Thom’s vocal floats over the top, it ends in some twisty guitar. “This is a hopeful song. We’ve got lots and lots of hopeful songs haven’t we boys?” Sail to The Moon with its piano and space guitar, gentle, soothing, almost soppy.
“C’mon kids!” I shout – wanting to hear Kid A again, “Please switch on the machine” says Thom in a funny voice and the chatter of the crowd becomes the twinkle of Sit Down Stand Up. People keep talking through the quiet before the storm. Some of us are braced because we already know it’s not just another piano song. There is a shriek when it kicks off. That might have been me. Thom flips out after “the raindrops” as the drums kick in. It seems shorter than the earlier version. Thom sings the opening line of Scatterbrain a capella but stops and they start the song, to loud cheers. “Did someone say run to the hills then?”
I shout again and get Kid A. People clap along, almost in relief at a older song, but stop when the rumbling drums begin, it’s almost all drums with a little bit of one finger keyboard and I love it. Thom breaks it down to a refrain, at the end, “C’mon kids”.
No Surprises get the biggest roar of the night so far and more clapping (vaguely in time at least). Thom throws out an unaccompanied “leave me outta here” as an afterthought, then Myxomatosis, is twice the volume of anything that came before, all treated guitar and raunchy moves.
“Another new one, this involves clapping, but it’s very special clapping, where you’re not really there, you wait for the beat, then ten minutes later it arrives. If you don’t wanna clap, that’s fine, see if I care.” We Suck Young Blood.
Thom is downright chatty, Paranoid Android reminds me of the last time I heard it in this building and it gave me the fear. The crowd singalong turning it into a gormless chant, but as usual I wait for the twitchy bits. As with many Radiohead songs, the bit when Jonny breaks in and tries to ruin it is the best bit. I still hate the “rain down” chorus, mainly because no bugger can ever sing it in tune.
My Iron Lung further ups the pace, provokes some more clapping and out of tune singing and Thom howls the last “it’s OK” like he’s falling down a well. Idioteque, the opening sample more sinister than usual ends with the room whipped up into a frenzy. Everything In Its Right Place prompts overenthusiastic clapping that soon dies out as the bass kicks in, and fails to get back on track for the off beat at the end (which always irks me). The fade out lasts for ages as the band leave the stage.
“It’s Philip’s Birthday” Thom says in another silly voice as they come back on, and it gets sampled… the crowd pick up an out of time chorus of the appropriate song. The Gloaming rumbles into life, the spooky sample coming back at the end.
A rattle of tambourine and I Might Be Wrong shimmers into being. I am dancing again. It staggers and stutters a bit but Jonny pulls it back into shape with some rumbling guitar.
From out of nowhere they play Just and it feels like the liveliest thing of the night.
“This is from our third record, now we’ve done six. That makes us old. This is called The Tourist.” Not one they play very often, it seems to suit the mood of the evening. So much of HTTT is dark and sinister sounding but without the action of the Kid A era stuff. There have been none of the ostensible “rock tracks” from the album tonight, more of the atmospheric ones, some quite dirge-like.
The encore’s encore finally arrives with Talk Show Host, which has already had several airings on this tour, it’s slinky in a more direct way than the newer stuff. Almost like a reward for the crowd’s patience, they play Fake Plastic Trees last. It has karaoke qualities. But Thom rescues it with his occasionally aired “crumbles and burns” glissando. The end sounds triumphant and grand – which for a song about defeat is pretty impressive.
When the band are gone, the ska compilation wafts through the room and I am left dancing on the spot, trying to compose myself. My regular companions know to leave me alone for a moment now, to absorb the show, to come back to earth, but M, who had been so keen to join me in Edinburgh, doesn’t seem to realise that I need some space. She is everywhere I look, trying to get in my eye line. I spin around, not able to cope with anyone in my face right now. She doesn’t take the hint and follows me as I try to dodge her. She wants to know if I’m going to the afters. I’m Keiko’s guest so it’s not up to me to invite anyone else, it is not in my power and I don’t want the responsibility. But she’s still there. I snap. I’m not proud of it, I might even have told her to “fuck off”.
Next thing I know I’m inside a back stage bar with Keiko. It’s busy, there are a lot of people here, Manchester always seems to have a party going on after a show but it’s not one I feel part of. There is no sign of any of the band, they’re probably celebrating Phil’s birthday in private. Yasuko is still outside and Keiko goes to fetch her. But we don’t have a spare pass, nor can we find anyone to ask for one. She tries to leave and come back in but a bouncer has got wise to her plan to bring another person and won’t let her return. I go over to argue with him, protesting her lack of English, asking him to fetch a manager, but he chooses this moment to exercise his little bit of power and escorts us both outside. Karma.
Out in the cold I am fuming, angry with the bouncer, angry with the others, angry with myself. I avoid people from earlier, not wanting to join those waiting for the band by the bus, but unable to leave.
Eventually I end up back at our hotel with Clarabelle and Magnakai (I’m going to keep using people’s Borad handles, deal with it), who has nowhere else to go, sharing a generically branded room. I am in a foul mood which I can’t properly explain to the others.
This band, this bloody band.