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Gigs of 2009 – Radiohead, Reading Festival

January 11, 2010

For the first time since I was 16, I wasn’t going to bother with Reading Festival this year. When you are 16, it’s incredible, but when you are 5 years older, all those kids running round with such unbridled joy seem like twats, and you feel very old indeed.

But I had to see Radiohead, so I ended up buying a Sunday day ticket. Somehow I’d never seen them before. They are the greatest band around, up there with the best ever, and their back catalogue is breathtaking in its depth and quality.

It’s a shame for some that they still think Creep is their best song. They are missing out a lot. I have heard tales of friends watching Radiohead, stationed next to beered-up louts requesting Creep for the whole set. So it was brilliant that here, they opened with it. Some people seem to wait years to hear it live, and for me it’s the first song they play. It was good to get it out of the way, so they could concentrate on their really good stuff. They immediately launched into The National Anthem.

Me and my friend Nick had ventured forward during Bloc Party’s preceding set, and managed to end up about 4 rows from the front. Here we seemed to be amongst proper fans, which sounds kind of snobbish (and perhaps is), but I feel it was important to my enjoyment of the concert because during the quieter, more fragile songs, the crowd around me afforded the band the reverent atmosphere they deserve. During the beginning of Exit Music (For A Film), for example, just Thom and an acoustic guitar, the awed hush around me was electric. And during the sing-a-long parts, the crowd joined in with religious gusto.

Before this gig, I was quite nervous. I was so looking forward to finally seeing Radiohead, who are probably the epitome of what one could hope a band to be, that I was worried it could not possibly live up to my lofty expectations. And of course, there were songs I would have loved to have heard that I did not. But they have such a vast amount of incredible, life-affirming songs, that this was bound to happen, and in fact it was as good as I could have ever possibly dreamed of it being.  The setlist was packed almost entirely with highlights, and it’s pretty much impossible to name one particular peak moment from this performance.

Only during the not-that-great-by-Radiohead’s-standards new track These Are My Twisted Words, played during the encore, did the magic slightly diminish, but in many ways this let the crowd catch their breath, and try to absorb what had come already, before the trio of Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Paranoid Android, Everything In Its Right Place closed the show in majestic fashion. During the “Rain Down” refrain on Paranoid Android the whole crowd raised their hands to the sky, seemingly pleading with the heavens to answer this magnificence with a well-timed downpour. But of course nothing could compete with the perfection onstage.

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