In the clapped-out room in Wolves Gabi makes a video of Yasuko and I, trying to perfect our clapping along to 15 Step and falling about laughing.
Somehow we all make it to London and go to the various places where we have beds for the night (we’re crashing at Ken’s bachelor pad in The City along with Jason from New York). I take a walk from the South Bank via Fleet Street to rendezvous with the others at Eros at Piccadilly Circus so that those who have come from afar can see a bit of London. People have come from Sweden, Vienna, New York, even Peru. Some of us go for a drink in Soho before making our way to the venue in Hammersmith.
The Peruvians, a couple of very young chaps who run a Radiohead website called, logically, Radiohead Peru, have been saving up for this trip, their first chance to see the band. For various reasons Radiohead have not been able to play in South America (expect Mexico City) up to this point and the internet is getting restless about it. The Peruvian contingent mention their annoyance at every opportunity and are keen to petition the band in person. Gabi runs her own Radiohead web site in Argentina, I sense a rivalry between her and Italo who runs Radiohead Peru. He’s a very persistent guy, a little naive but very excited to be here. He gets interviewed by the NME, which rather goes to his head.
By this point, I’m tired as well as elated, aggravated by everyone else’s shit and I just need to commune with ‘my boys’. This is what I’m here for and all the social stuff, all the normal people stuff just gets in the way. Every time my fix is interrupted, when what I want to happen doesn’t quite happen, I get a little closer to realising that those days might be over, that we aren’t really real friends (we can never be real friends) that they are The Best Band In The World ™ and now they’re one of the biggest as well.
The Boardies converge on a pub near the venue, we are already virtual chums so there is a lot of catching up over beers. We don’t really have much in common beyond a love of this band and a compulsion to enliven our less than fulfilling work days by chatting on the band’s Message Board.
These generally shy people meet; some get together, then split up, some marry; some share flats, form allegiances, some fall out spectacularly. Somehow the gig itself isn’t all this is about, for some people it’s not the biggest part any more, but that isn’t true for me. I am in my usual pre-gig funk.
For the first night at Hammersmith Keiko and I have seats, tickets from Julie at the management. We break away and take our places in the balcony.
We have time and space to catch up here, she has been doing this for a long time too. She has her own rules, she’s worried that I’m trying too hard to please other people, to make too many friends. I know what she means. She says we have earned this. My instinct is to share, use any spare tickets, make sure everyone can get in. Knowing how great getting into an aftershow makes me feel, I want others to know what that is like. However, taking new people along is a nerve wracking experience. What if they don’t understand the etiquette? I convince myself that I understand the rules, but worry that I don’t behave well enough myself when I get there. That’s the nature of Radiohead, there is always worry.
We have a wide view of the stage from the front row of the balcony, these guest list seats are the hottest ticket in town, I’ve been hanging on the phone all week to get them, but the whole of this tier must be guest list. Friends in high places.
At first, a London show seems a little more restrained than the nights that have gone before. Something about a London crowd still reins in the energy of the band. In Thom’s case, it makes him extra edgy. But that’s London, the number of liggers, the presence of “friends”, of “industry people”, mention this weird atmosphere to anybody in or with the band and the reason is always just “London”.
But then the show opens with Videotape. Thom starts in the dark at the piano but for the first time the rest of the band join in, then it hits me (again) why it’s this band and not any other. In the hands of a lesser outfit this would be an Bics-aloft ballad, but as they add layers of rhythm and noise it swirls up into more than just a little song full of sentiment. It has centrifugal force and the precious feeling I’ve been waiting for falls into place.
This opening threatens to alters the dynamic of the night but the red lights flash and Radiohead clatter into a noisy segue of The National Anthem and 2+2=5. I hate to be in a seat for this. I writhe to the rhythm. I am long past caring how much this annoys those around me. This is why I am here. It pulls my nerves taught, chills my spine, steals my breath.
Seven shows into this stretch and the new songs are making themselves at home in my head. The new version of Nude is not just the latest version of ‘Big Ideas’. It starts quietly, people shout “Go on Thom,” like they’re cheering on their team. He sings without an instrument, grips the mic tight, the crowd fall silent, he only has to sing, knows he’s taking everyone with him. The new songs are falling into place, little tweaks, notes taken, ideas worked through. It’s always the new songs.
Thom plays I Want None of This, a restrained piano-led piece as the first song of a second encore. (They recorded it quickly and released it as a download in aid of Warchild last year, it has been the only official release for a while. Brave move.) Somewhere in this massive room one person is shouting, a few people chatting is inevitable with an unknown quiet number but this is drowning out a particularly Neil Young-ish chord change. With a venom not heard from him in a long time, Thom silences the heckler with a curt, “Shut up you cunt.” (A moment immortalised on YouTube – we’re in the era of phones aloft by now. You can piece together most of these Hammersmith shows, there were more people with better phones.)
London shows, man.
Keiko and I stagger up the stairs into the back bar. I get pulled apart by these shows and I have difficulty explaining the state of myself to people. It’s not just a gig. It’s not just a spectator sport.
Keiko is talking to Sharona, Jonny’s wife (of course they’ve met before). Keiko is somehow different to the rest of us, more memorable, more of a fixture, the crew know her. Today there are quite a few recognisable faces around (if your frame of reference is Radio 4) John Simm is here. (Some people say the actor looks like Thom, but in this context I can’t see it); The comedian Jeremy Hardy; Abingdon School alumnus Tom Hollander (with a heavy beard) he must be someone in the band’s old mate.
The hangers on don’t stay long, there’s no free bar. In spite of this, Keiko and I stay and drink a few beers together, we need this space to calm down. I say hello to Phil and later Ed, but Keiko has more chat for them than I do. We hunker down, realise we’re not going to speak to Thom and have another pint. This show was top drawer, and it feels about the music again (it was never not about the music, don’t let it be about anything but the music). I’m still trying to analyse it in the mini cab back to Farringdon.