ROIO of the Week [Recordings of Indeterminate Origin]


Radiohead
Black Tuesday [Head/2CD]

The Koran says it was on a Tuesday that Allah created the darkness. On Tuesday, September 11 last year, two jets slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Half a world away in Berlin, Radiohead were readying to go onstage at the Parkbuehne Wuhlheide. Over to Thom Yorke.

"So who here doesn’t know about it?" he asks apprehensively after finishing a breathless Pyramid Song from the Amnesiac album.

"Everybody knows what I’m talking about?" There’s silence for a response.

"Dunno what I’m talking about? You don’t know about the aeroplanes in America? You don’t know…" his voice trails and someone shouts out "s***" with the force of a fullstop.

"Somebody tell ‘em," retorts Yorke with no anger.

"I’ll tell ya. Well I can’t remember it all now… two… two jets.. two ahhh… three… I dunno I’ve lost count… four jets? How many?" he turns to guitarist Ed O’Brien who tells him it is four.

"Four jets," Yorke continues, "One crashed into the Pentagon. Two crashed into the World Trade Center. One got shot out the sky by the Americans…" he turns to O’Brien, "You’re saying it crashed as well?"

The crowd has taken all this quietly and now someone hollers "bulls***" much like the legendary "Judas" exclamation that got Dylan going in ’66 at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. But tonight there’s a great sadness in Radiohead’s performance.

"So… that’s why, y’know, things are a little mute tonight," Yorke apologises.

"I’m sorry about that. This is called Paranoid Android."

Thom Yorke knows Radiohead are being recorded for an upcoming live album. But the band can’t muster the energy to rock ‘n’ roll. Instead they are reeling with their longer, moodier numbers like Dollars & Cents, Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box, I Might Be Wrong and the aforementioned Pyramid Song from Amnesiac, itself an ambient-like, mood-altering collection of songs.

The performance is hesitant at first. The band had heard about the attacks in New York but the show must go on. And in a perverse way, Radiohead were the perfect band to reflect the hurt. Thom Yorke’s voice is akin to the pleasure of pain. There’s an alchemy in his performance to transform the ordinary into pain. The songs off OK Computer tonight sound strained, tired. Karma Police, Climbing Up The Walls and No Surprises all echo of newfound tragedy.

But things really sink in after Radiohead play Paranoid Android. Suddenly, you realise how much feeling there is in the song’s line "God loves his children" as the guitars rev to life. Disc Two opens with Idioteque and Everything In It’s Right Place from Kid A, then melancholic versions of Like Spinning Plates and Lucky.

There’s also plenty of uncertainty on that fateful night about the tragedy. Before playing the melodic You And Whose Army, originally an attack on England’s premier Tony Blair, Yorke instead angles the song against the attackers as a show of defiance. He announces with some unease, "This… all right, well eh… is for the Bush Administration, I guess." Then the band follow that with Kid A’s How To Disappear Completely and leave the stage.

Brought back for an encore, Radiohead play a b-side, Talk Show Host, then close the show with the song from The Bends that transformed Radiohead into something more than a pop band, Street Spirit. Yorke reminds himself of the gravity of the situation.

"This is hoping… George Bush doesn’t declare World War III."

"Cracked eggs dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death, can see its beady eyes
All these things into fruition
All these things we’ll one day swallow whole
And fade out again and fade out again…"

Sound quality is great for an audience recording, lively with the ambience of the hall. The tracks listed are incorrect. Disc One has 15 not 14 songs. Disc Two’s first track, Paranoid Android, actually ends the first disc. As a bonus, there are six songs from a May 30 2001 show in Verona, Italy with good sound. Radiohead recorded this show as well. Parts of it was released on the official I Might Be Wrong live album in 2001. Maybe someday, they will put it all out. - Michael Cheah

Note: The above review was published in BigO #201 (September 2002). Click here to order a copy of the issue (S$4.80). Overseas readers can email [email protected] for rates.


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