when rainbows collide
Went to see Radiohead play at Malahide Castle on Friday night. Strange how it's common to say 'see' someone play rather than 'hear' them, but the both the hearing and seeing were brilliant in this case. It was a fantastic gig - moving, powerful, musically extremely accomplished as always - and there were even rainbows. It had looked like it might lash rain, but instead it rained a little before the concert began, then cleared off to a light drizzle which quickly dried up entirely, while treating us to a particularly apt double rainbow - beautiful. Almost Thom Yorke's first words as he came on stage were, 'did anybody see the rainbow?' which elicited a large cheer. That was to set the tone for the night, with a mainly very appreciative and attentive crowd, a setlist of material primarily from the new album - In Rainbows for anyone who hasn't yet heard it and might not fully appreciate the weather-related synchronicity - with a track or two off OK Computer, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, I think.
It was billed as a 'green' gig with ticketholders encouraged to get the train or bus there, and the entrance to the forested grounds of Malahide Castle was only 150m from the DART station. It was quick to get there although slow getting in, without any apparent reason, as they weren't even searching bags - making me wish I'd brought my camera. But the cameraphone held up to the task well, though it can't capture the brilliance of the stageshow.
The giant stage was hung with vertical lighttubes, which reached almost to the ground at the sides of the stage but were shorter to form a 'room' around the band. These were lit in a diversity of ways throughout the gig, including having lights projected on them, rippling through them and illuminating them completely in different colours, while a strip of video screens at the back of the stage and to both sides were split into multiple shots of the band, usually tinted in one colour. There were clearly tiny cameras built into the equipment around the band projecting these images, as there were no obtrusive cameras swinging around stage on poles and dollies. Altogether visually very effective, especially considering it was an outdoor gig with a huge stage and I think tens of thousands in the audience, yet it felt intimate and involving and the band were always visible.
As well as limited parking and the encouragement to use public transport, the band t-shirts on sale were made from 50% recycled plastic bottles woven with 50% organic cotton. I gave in to impulse and bought a scarf, apparently 100% polyester, which makes me wonder if it was entirely made of recycled plastic -otherwise it would seem an odd material for them to be selling.
On the way into the concert I was given a leaflet entitled 'Exit', a collaboration between MTV and Radiohead to raise awareness of human trafficking - modern day slavery. Might seem incongruous at a gig yet it underlined Radiohead's genuine commitment to using their influence to raise awareness of global social issues, notably climate change but also issues such as trafficking which get much less airplay.
Their songs were so beautiful throughout, and uplifting, which is how I've always found Radiohead to be. They have a reputation as a 'depressing' band - Father Ted has not been alone on that score - but to me by expressing those darker emotions and exploring the more painful sides of life, often bleakly and in depth, they transcend that sadness into a love of life, with all its pain.
They played for around 2 hours, which was really the right time - don't get me started on high-priced bands playing for less than 60 minutes - and held the audience throughout, some songs played just on two guitars, others the big multi-layered sound from their albums, and at one point they left the stage with the electronic music playing on after them. Two encores - I found I could not stop clapping before the second one, even as people around me turned to leave.
The best song for me was 'Super Collider' a new song played by Yorke alone on the upright piano, astonishingly beautiful, and coming at a perfect point in the gig - almost at the end during the (second?) encore. He introduced the song as one he'd just written and was working on, and it appears that this audience was the first ever to hear it. Its lyrics about light brought to my mind Yeats' poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. I'll admit I was actually moved to tears. With typical grace he thanked us for listening, when it was us uproariously thanking him for the honour of hearing.