Radiohead, Live at the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool

Blackpool is rough as hell. Walk down the promenade, and you’ll be confronted with drunken stag parties cavorting with similarly inebriated slag parties – bits hanging out and all – set against the backdrop of lap dancing clubs and sex shops. Not a pretty sight. But the Empress Ballroom provides a remedy: its beauty (barrel-vaulted ceiling complete with chandeliers), combined with a support set from the excellent Willy Mason, creates a sense of calm in the venue. The crowd seem friendlier and happier than at your average gig, but why wouldn’t you be when you’re about to see the best band in the world in such an intimate arena?

Radiohead start their set with ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, and build with songs from their last three albums, from ‘2+2=5’ to ‘Idioteque’. The combination of electronic dance beats and lighting effects builds a sense of euphoria, and the ballroom at times resembles a rave rather than a rock concert. The band confidently mixes established material with new tracks – some getting their first airings – ranging from jazzy pieces to my own favourite, combining more electronica-influenced drumbeats with a high octane, dirty garage rock riff from a swaggering Jonny Greenwood.

Meanwhile, Tom Yorke is on excellent form. He dances round the stage, flirts with a keyhole camera mounted on his piano and sports a Transylvanian accent for his exchanges with the crowd. But he doesn’t neglect politics either, at one point launching into a scathing attack on the media’s treatment of Hugo Chavez. As the gig progresses, more classic Radiohead is brought out, with ‘Karma Police’ and the newer ‘There There’. But it’s not until the two encores that Radiohead really unleash their back catalogue; the first contains the power soaked ‘Just’ and ‘The Bends’ back to back, whilst the second is dominated by OK Computer. Radiohead play out with ‘Paranoid Android’, leaving the crowd crying out for more. There truly is no other band that compares.

Reviewed by Mike McGovern

13/05/06

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