When Radiohead were announced for Aarhus’ Northside festival’s headlining slot – there was a feeling of accomplishment for the city. It wouldn’t matter who else was playing for thousands of ticket seekers. As the rest of the line-up took shape over the year however, aside a scattering of recognizable international names (Frank Ocean, Run The Jewels, James Blake) the music festival’s program was quite thin for many of the fans who would attend solely for Radiohead. Horrible weather plagued the first day, mud the 2nd and finally on Radiohead’s Sunday slot – more rain would arrive – a little jokingly one fan quipped as it started “part of Radiohead’s special effects no doubt”.
Folks were a bit confused by the long gap in between music – there was seemingly an eternity of waiting in position in front of the blue stage after dolefully listening to The 1975’s brand of 80s pop waft through the threatening chilly evening. How long would Radiohead perform? We were told they had a slot from 22.30 – 1.15, a whopper of a set it that was true. My friends and I gathered in a large semi-circle had stocked up on beers just as the heavens really opened up shortly before the advertised show times. It wasn’t just a drizzle of summer mist though descending upon us – it was a deluge of near biblical proportions.
All the lights on the grounds seemed to disappear as the twinkling intro of “Dreaming” could be heard. The stage itself was only lit by the giant oval LCD screen the band had brought. Thom Yorke’s unmistakable voice drifted over the sound system and through the hills. Freezing rain pounded us, wind whipped up like a banshee howling and the stage came alive with ecstatic cheers as their awesome array of lights came to action. Radiohead’s first card played was that they actually started early, 2.00 early, but still…
What I found really interesting over the course of Radiohead’s first numbers was that it seemed like an exodus of people leaving. My friends (who were admittedly only casual fans) bailed, and there seemed like a steady stream of folks slithering away during the opening songs of Radiohead’s set. Where were these 40,000 people that were allegedly all here to see Radiohead? It was now evident that (while still a sizeable crowd) only about 1/3 of the festival goers were sticking around to hear a 2-hour set from one of the greatest bands ever to grace the universe. It made me a little sad at first – but then their loss was our gain – as myself and the last of my squad to hang around were able to comfortably advance closer to the stage and have our minds melted by seeing Radiohead. Two of them – for their first time after nearly a life-time of being fans. At some points, I got more overwhelmed by the fact that two of my friends were just seriously having ecstatic fits of pleasure while seeing one of their favorite bands for the first time ever. Rain or no rain.
Radiohead’s actual set was not as “hits” laden as some might have hoped. Personally, I’m a fan of all of their guises through the ages; The Brit-pop beginnings, their massive OK Computer phase, the more experimental 2000s and now to their current sense of heartbroken fragility on A Moon Shaped Pool. The set was evenly paced between OKC (“Lucky” coming out as their second number) and AMSP tracks. Over the 2 hours, however, their choice of tracks suited the mood of the festival to a “T” – dark, gloomy and heavy. I think only “Airbag” (which featured fairly early in the set as well) could count as a song in a major key. It was a set that a true Radiohead fan would love – album cuts from Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail To The Thief and King Of Limbs as well as “more well-known” pieces from OKC (“Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police”) and even “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” from The Bends closing their main set before the obligatory encore. Any arguments against Radiohead being depressing music were hard to back up at this point I’ll admit.
The weather un-relented, my hands were just frozen claws – luckily the band weaved in plenty of dance-able moments (“Bloom” and “Idioteque”) among more reflective pieces – at least so we could get the blood flowing to places that were in danger of dying and falling away into the mud – to permanently become part of Åbyhøj’s ecosystem (or more likely scooped up by one of the hundreds of sneaky deposit cup collectors and exchanged for cash). The bands lighting and projectors were astounding – forming laser-like patterns across the grounds and sky. The fractured and magnified images of the band being blasted into our glassy eyes while we could see the real deal as miniature dancing figures a few hundred meters away on stage. There was always a feeling of isolation with this show – you tend to gaze inward at a Radiohead performance – and as soon as you become dangerously unreachable – a punch-drunk singalong arrives. Hearing folks scream Jonny Greenwoods guitar lines in “Paranoid Android” is something to behold as your jerked back down to earth, shaken from your internal adventure.
After their five-song encore, ending in “Karma Police”, the lights came up and the stage was immediately filled with roadies wrapping up – signaling the definitive end of NorthSide. A feeling of desperate emptiness pervaded – it wasn’t 1:15 – Radiohead performed for exactly 2 hours as announced however and we were so frozen, gob smacked and inebriated though that our math skills were hindered and now we had to face slogging it home, completely soaked to the bone. I went to the pub with my mate – still reeling from his first Radiohead experience, and my second. It was a show that I’ll never forget – although a somewhat painful memory from a challenging weekend marred by nautical weather and uneven programs for the other days.
Today might not be a great day to ask me if I’ll be up for it again next summer – but I also have just seen one of the greatest bands in history perform in my adopted hometown of Aarhus, so it’s a day of reflection for sure.
All I Need
Everything In It’s Right Place
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
You And Who’s Army
"Today might not be a great day to ask me if I’ll be up for it again next summer – but I also have just seen one of the greatest bands in history perform in my adopted hometown of Aarhus, so it’s a day of reflection for sure." (5/6)