100. Prague, Vystaviste, 23rd August 2009. Part 2.

So, the main event. The gig. My 100th Radiohead gig since 1993, so it was always going to be a bit of an emotional experience. From the off it was also one of the best gigs I’ve seen the band play in a very long time.

The crowd were really up for it, so much so that they couldn’t wait to get on their feet to welcome Moderat (the Mode Selektor/ Apparat collaboration playing the support slot) and it all nearly came unstuck when I got a bit exasperated at being pushed around, but if memory serves, there is always some kind of emotional crux at this point; Let’s call it Stage 1 gig angst.

Stage 2 involves trying to recover from this burst of angry energy to maintain calm until the band come on stage.

Stage 3 is that delicious anticipation as you watch the now familiar ritual of the roadies setting up the stage.

Stage 4, the golden moment when the stage is ready, the towels are down, the bottled water and set lists are on the floor and there’s one or two more tunes left on the mix tape before the opening theme starts. After this, once the chaps are have come on and kicked in we reach Stage 5.

Symptoms include facial spasm from continual grinning, involuntary jumping up and down, a weird head and shoulder movement we shall christen the “Yorke twitch” and myriad other bizarre physical ticks unexplainable to anyone who’s not there, or who has never been there before. I had to apologise in advance to the lady behind me, who was enjoying her first ever gig, knowing that I would be all flailing elbows and whiplash hair.

This gig was unusual in that there was a stage 6 reaction. I had emailed in advance and was hoping the band were aware of my “gigaversary”. Towards the end of the show, Thom gave me a mention before playing Airbag. “This is for Lucy who is 100 today.”

Stage 6, I’ve discovered, involves screaming at the top of my voice, experiencing all the other symptoms simultaneously and then bursting into tears of pure joy. It also involved Thom having to shush us before starting the song… bet no one’s put THAT on youtube. To be honest I’d been pretty close to this state before that moment (the best ever performance of Nude, the unaccompanied Thom vocal at the end of There There, Jonny really going for it during Bangers & Mash… all highlights) but a dedication, from the band that very rarely does dedications, made the night extra special.

Afterwards, drained, stunned, exhausted and thirsty I rejoined the group at the back of zone 1, and was crushed into some sort of mass pile-on bear hug. Apparently they’d been able to access the beer tent from this vantage point… We were fabulous and it was a bloody good laugh!

Later, I stumbled out of the backstage area to find I was clutching a wine glass. Thom Yorke’s wine glass.

 

99. Latitude Festival, Suffolk, 19 July 2009

June 24 email from me to Yasuko:
I’m going to Latitude! (Gabi called me about 10 minutes after she found out about it to say she had bought me a ticket!) it’s a little crazy and we are just going for the one day… all a bit unreal really. Also despite me not having a job at the moment I’m making plans to go to Prague. I will do what I did last year and go by train (hopefully) I don’t think I will go to the other shows (Unless there are suddenly spare tickets). What were your plans? I can’t remember!
Prague will be gig 100.. so CHAMPAGNE (I hope – even if i have to provide it)
hope things are good with you.

Getting from Scotland to deepest East Anglia on public transport offered a few challenges but I managed to make all my connections with time to spare on Saturday, even the bus from Lowestoft turned out to be a fairly smooth ride and I arrived in Southwold at 4pm. I had time to explore and discovered a 1920s style tea room.

The whole place was like some Cath Kidston dream of what an English seaside village should be like, as if it had been laid on to be the opposite of Blackpool. I’m sure after a few days the whole place would be insufferably twee, but it felt right this weekend.

Despite going to bed early, I managed to spend the whole night in a funk, dreaming that I was still awake. We’d ordered an early taxi to the site and arrived in time to find the box office and then exchange tickets for wristbands. These two facilities where about half a mile apart on the site – allowing us to get a flavour of the type of thing to expect at this festival – lots of BMWs in the car park, large families moving their camping kit around in wheelbarrows and more kids than I’d ever seen at a festival before.

We joined the queue to be among the first onto the site (some people had been there since 5am, but I’m not convinced that this helped, they still had to run into the site to get the much desired front and centre spot at the foot of the stage.)

It was an uphill jog to get to the barrier of the Obelix stage, but once we were there we could relax, have a coffee (Latte – tude?) and investigate the MASH style latrines.

After watching Thom do a bit of lurking at the side of the stage and trying to guess the jobs of everyone on the stage who we didn’t recognise (an entourage of four including Nigel Godrich who appeared to be taking pictures on his iPhone) By noon we were very ready. Thom was only a couple of minutes late.

It was too early to be nervous and the kit was triple checked so there were no hitches. I don’t think the performance could have been better. It soon didn’t matter that he was alone on stage, although it seemed very strange at first. Having nowhere else to look, no Jonny flailing around on our side of the stage. He played the piano and a sampler for the Eraser tracks and an acoustic guitar for a couple of oldies “from the shelf”. Follow Me Around and True Love Waits, a brand new tune called The Present Tense.

Worth the effort, no question!

The rain graciously kept off until we’d had time to get a beer, eat some Argentinean barbeque lunch and settle under a tree. I spent the rest of the day wandering round in a daze, not quite sure how to deal with a festival with quite so many children and older people around… then realising that I was bang in the middle of the demographic.

Of all the bands playing later, the only full set I saw was Phoenix. I caught the last couple of songs of Magazine’s set. I’d wanted to see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds too but I was so tired during their set, and unable to make my brain accept something from so far over to the other side of my musical taste on the same day as Thom’s set. We decided to leave after a few songs (all that drama and preacherman stuff just wasn’t quite right for the moment).

On the long walk to the exit I found the Disco Shed, now lit up and pumping out some old school classics, so we had a bit of a boogie to Paid In Full by Eric B & Rakim before we left the site.

I felt kind of subdued. It was a strange experience to see Thom play not only on his own, but also at midday, when one is used to having to wait around all day to get a good pitch at an outdoor show like this. It was not so much an anticlimax as being left wanting more.

The next day I had until mid afternoon to explore Southwold, and spent a while on the beach and looking at the Donwood-esq contraptions on the Pier. I enjoyed myself and one day when the lotto numbers are kind I’ll maybe get myself one of those beach huts….

98. Glasgow, Glasgow Green, 27 June 2008

It felt weird to be back in Glasgow after the longest time I had been away for ages. And then to be acting as tour guide to a bunch of people who’d never been to the city before. We went to Mono (a bar and record shop favoured by the indie set) to meet up with a crowd who were going to the gig and eventually got served lunch (it’s all very well having bar staffed by people who are in bands but as waiters they make great musicians).

A few of us then went to check out the venue. There was a very small queue on each side at about 2.30pm. As a couple of us had to wait for the box office to open, we went and had desserts in West (the microbrewery beside the Templeton’s Carpet Factory).

When we went back around to the front entrance about 4pm it had started to rain. I sorted out my tickets (thanks nice box office lady for letting me leave the spares ones for my friends to collect) and then tried to raise someone on the phone for the last spare I had available. But no one was picking up. I decided that if I was going to stand around getting wet I might as well do it inside the venue and get a decent spot. My compardres had stationed themselves fairly near the stage and bought plastic ponchos (not very eco-friendly but unfortunately necessary as the W.A.S.T.E. cagoules are no match for the Glasgow drizzle. I put one on over my existing rain coat and glooped about like a giant see-though jellyfish.

We settled in with a few drinks and the time passed until Bat For Lashes came on stage.

It continued raining on and off all night and despite looking ridiculous, I was glad to be encased in plastic. Radiohead were greeted from the off by a rabid Friday night audience. I think the band been looking forward to this one after the vagaries of the London crowd (that morning Thom had posted pictures on Dead Air Space, but there were no more rainbows, it was far too grey.)

Some of my Scottish friends managed to find us in the crowd just before the bands started, the whole approach to where to stand is different in Glasgow. Your typical audience member has no truck with queuing in the rain, they’d rather be in the pub. So for most of the show there was a surge of people all trying to get to the front or start a mosh pit and quite a bit of argy bargy.

We were in a fairly safe position two rows back, quite far to Jonny’s side (similar to where I’d been on the second night in London) but if not actually on the barrier it takes all your strength to stay upright and keep a view of the stage. I was pretty tired, several boardies had kipped at my flat and it is difficult to have an early night with a house full of eager people who are excitedly catching up with each other. I was hanging on, convincing myself that if this was going to be the last show for me on this tour then I’d better get the most out of it.

The band were amazed by the crowd. From about three songs in you could see it in their faces. Weird things were happening. (A man flashing his nipple at Thom! A fight broke out. Italian boys near us who didn’t know the words hummed along to all the guitar parts loudly. The rain kept on coming.)

The pit got more and more energetic but each time we thought they might be about to play a slower track they hit us with another fast one. My friends got further and further away from me, some pulled into by the mosh to the front, some having to retreat further back and some staying to battle it out for their places.

I had a few Incredible Hulk moments where I found the strength to keep my feet firmly planted, even to dance when there were elbows coming from all sides (I suppose I should be more forgiving to the chap in front, he was really into it moving all over the shop. I suppose that’s what it’s like to get stuck behind me, “dances with motion blur” at a show).

As well as a really frantic set (Thom really throwing himself into his Myxomatosis dance!) we got another audience participation version of Karma Police and an encore treat of Like Spinning Plates. All in all, despite or possibly because of the rain, a really good show to end on for me.

I waded out, back to see everyone who by now knew to meet me at the sound desk after the end of the show. Then there was a weird few minutes when the security herded the chosen few with wristbands from one side of the field to the other, like some sort of One Man And His Dog tournament without the animals. Eventually a security guy swore that he wasn’t kidding and Gabi and I went to the right gate for the catering tent. They herded us about a bit more and finally we reached the obligatory last few beers and a seat giving us a chance to regroup and recover a bit.

My tour ended here, a lot of the others went on to Manchester and to Amsterdam but I had no fuel left in the tank. It remained to catch up on the videos, to sleep and to wait for the inevitable come down.

97. London, Victoria Park, 25 June 2008

I get down a lot earlier today to meet my contact to get my ticket. The weather was pretty much perfect by the time I got to Victoria Park and there were some fairly relaxed queues at about 3pm. I casually joined the one that was due to open last and by the time the gates opened at 4pm it was relatively easy to find a good spot. I joined a couple of boardies just on the barrier at the front, far Jonny-side (as opposed to Ed-wards).

It would seem to be the rule that the second night in a venue is always better. The weather held. The crowd behaved. The band stormed it with a slightly more crowd friendly set than last night. From my point of view it couldn’t have been better, decent view, excellent sound, human security personnel and minimal pushing from behind. Even a light breeze to keep us cool. I go on about how I don’t like to queue and I can’t stand the tension, that I’m not that bothered about being at the front, but it all gets shown up as hubris when you get your ribs near the rail. It was just 100 times better than the night before.

Radiohead rip straight into Idioteque out of Everything In Its Right Place and encored with Karma Police, The Bends and 2+2=5. The crowd carried on singing Karma Police after the band had left the stage (after Thom had done an extra chorus on his own).

The band were FEELING it tonight. Thom even invited EVERYONE to the aftershow party (and judging by the amount of people trying to get in, some took him literally at his word).

Liggers included Jude Law and his kids, a skinny red haired model, various people with “I’m in a Band” haircuts (I stopped reading NME so I couldn’t identify them) and a few more likely celebs (blah blah blah).

We were too busy tearing a hole in the space-time continuum…(Clara’s b’f has more than a passing resemblance to Ed and having them in the same tent at the same time could cause a rift!)

That orange cider should have a health warning on it though, nothing that colour should be fit for human consumption. Apparently more than 90 shows is too many… I think that means I’ve been around so long I make certain people feel old!

We pile into a mini cab in the early hours and attempt to reach Hammersmith, getting pulled over by the police on a flyover (the cab driver’s fault not ours) turning the journey into a continuation of the unreality of the previous few hours.

96. London, Victoria Park, 24 June 2008

After fifteen minutes walk from Mile End tube station, we finally get onto the site. It was laid out like a mini-Glastonbury with more food stalls than you could shake a burger at (even in the middle behind the sound desk).

There were at least 40,000 people in the arena. We milled around near the back for a while then discovered that if you went down to the side near the bar you could at least get a view of the band on the stage.

The disadvantage of being near the bar (and it being still light) is the crowd all keep talking like they are in a pub watching the gig on TV. Even the hardcore fans have given up and started talking. I try going in a bit nearer the stage for a couple of songs but there wasn’t much improvement. Nights like this make me resigned to the fact that most people don’t experience these gigs in the same way I do. I remind myself that London crowds always SUCK.

At one point, when Bat for Lashes were on, we realised we were standing in front of Steve Lamacq. In a break between songs I introduced myself. Turns out the researcher who had been teasing me with the idea that I could send in something to his show about the tour had been away for the last week. My dreams of a radio career melt before my eyes.

Mr Lamacq did note that we were in the “Prawn Sandwich” section of the crowd, where people can afford to spend £50 on a ticket and then just socialise, drink and chat without being all that bothered about the gig. I drawn the line at a Radiohead gig becoming an exercise in corporate hospitality.

Once it got dark and the light show was in full effect, things improved. The band are enjoying Bangers & Mash and still doing the You And Whose Army/ Idioteque segue.

Thom came back on and played Cymbal Rush. They finished as a band with Planet Telex , which sounded a bit all over the place, the mix at the sides of the field wasn’t very balanced.

There was some ligging action to be had later. This being London, it was in a proper festival-style bar tent with picnic tables and bowls of sweets. (Parma Violets anyone?)

All a bit surreal. I’m introduced to an American called “Beetle” who has been to forty shows and compares the whole experience to following The Grateful Dead, only with less drugs and better music. I guess I’m part of that whole scene but it doesn’t feel like my experience.

People who know better than me reckoned the gig was pretty good (but they don’t have the problems us punters have to put up with).