Radiohead, Roundhouse, London — ‘Spellbinding’

Radiohead's Thom York at the Roundhouse. Photo: Matthew Baker/Getty©Matthew Baker/Getty

Radiohead’s Thom York at the Roundhouse. Photo: Matthew Baker/Getty

In the darkness a recording rang out of Nina Simone saying “I’ll inform you what freedom is for me. No fear.” It was an exciting selection of quote for a band whose work is fuelled by feelings of fearfulness and anxiety. Take those away and Radiohead would cease to exist, or would exist in a radically different kind, possibly involving tambourines and lots of smiling.

The initial track showed how far they are from reaching that unwelcome kind of freedom. It was “Burn the Witch”, a gripping exercising in mounting dread played on a stage lit in infernal red light. “This is a low-level panic attack,” Thom Yorke intoned as Jonny Greenwood sawed at his electric guitar with a bow, an abbreviated stand-in for the orchestral strings on the recorded version. Two drummers, Philip Selway supplemented by Portishead’s touring sticksman Clive Deamer, took up the slack with a pounding groove.

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This was the 1st of five tracks played consecutively from Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool . “Daydreaming” was beautifully suspended between Greenwood’s minimalist piano and Yorke’s saddened voice. “Decks Dark” featured bereft lines about getting “in your darkest hour”, comforted midway via by warm interplay in between Colin Greenwood’s bass and Ed O’Brien’s guitar. “Desert Island Disk” and “Ful Stop” respectively drew on the opposing 1970s traditions of folk-rock and krautrock.

Yorke’s depressive lyrics were lifted by the richness of the music. In proof of their artistic stamina, the final of the wonderful 1990s alt-rock bands proceeded to variety through their back catalogue. “Talk Show Host”, a 1995 B-side, was given an nearly hip-hop-like beat by the two drummers amid psychedelic wah-wah guitar from Greenwood. During “My Iron Lung”, the ectomorph guitarist attacked his strings with the violent intensity of a Giacometti figure starting a chainsaw. It was spellbinding to see him back in axe-maestro mode.

Yorke was in fine voice, his higher croon spiralling through the songs. The band’s shift towards electronic music was represented by standouts from the transitional album Kid A, “Idioteque” and “Everything in Its Correct Place”. The band’s developing capacity to fuse rock dynamics with elaborate electronic textures was traced through tracks such as “Myxomatosis” and “Morning Mr Magpie”. It was not with no stumbles — “Nude” required a restart right after a error from Greenwood — but the fallibility, amid such a higher level of musicianship, added the humanising touch that Yorke’s unintelligible stage banter could not.

They completed with new song, “Present Tense”, its title an affirmation of becoming in the moment, followed by old track “You and Whose Army?”, in which Yorke, at the piano, adopted the guise of a Nina Simone-style torch singer. Then came “Paranoid Android” from their masterpiece OK Pc, climaxing in Greenwood’s brilliantly convulsive guitar solos. The unforced passage between previous and present suggested Radiohead have identified their own version of Simone’s freedom. We need not worry an finish to them however.

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Section: Arts

Richard Ashcroft, Roundhouse, London — overview

Richard Ashcroft at the Roundhouse. Photo: C. Brandon/Redferns©C. Brandon/Redferns

Richard Ashcroft at the Roundhouse. Photo: C. Brandon/Redferns

Richard Ashcroft nonetheless has it, the spark that separates the prime tier of frontmen from the journeymen toilers. At the Roundhouse the former Verve leader created for mesmerising viewing, projecting a mix of arrogant disdain and passionate commitment, 1 moment eyeballing the audience from behind rock-star sunglasses, the subsequent punching the air in full rabble-rousing mode.

Throughout one particular song there have been no fewer than seven spotlights educated on him. He looked lean and intense, as considerably so at 44 as he did in his Britpop heyday. “Up for it,” in the lingo of that vanished era. Meanwhile, his backing musicians, who went unintroduced, stood in the shadows. “Well played, boys,” Ashcroft stated at the finish of “Music Is Power” in a moment of magnanimity.


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Yes, Ashcroft nonetheless has it. But what he does not have are the songs to match the swagger. Or rather he did, nearly 20 years ago: but no more.

This week he releases These Men and women, his initial solo album in a decade. The tracks debuted at the Roundhouse were underwhelming.

“Out of My Body”, sung by Ashcroft with a gas mask dangling about his neck, was unmemorable techno-rock about state surveillance, at as soon as urgent and dull. “This Is How It Feels” had a good sense of stadium rock bombast but took an age to erect its slow-creating verse-chorus-verse scaffolding.

String arrangements (played on a synthesiser) echoed The Verve’s 1997 album Urban Hymns. But his former group’s volatile chemistry has proved impossible to replicate. “They Do not Own Me” belied its message of independence by sounding like an Urban Hymns clone, a defiant singalong doomed not be sung along to.

At least Ashcroft was in very good voice: his statuesque transatlantic drawl bestrode the music like a colossus. “Break the Evening with Colour”, from his 2006 album Keys to the World, marked a partial breakthrough, ending with the singer playing a wild electric guitar solo and bellowing “Yeah!”

But the longed-for release of energy only came when he revisited his Verve songs, climaxing in a majestic rendition of “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. Though unable to scale new heights, Ashcroft can nonetheless reach the old ones.

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Section: Arts

Patti Smith, Roundhouse, London — ‘An undimmed roar’

Patti Smith on stage at the Roundhouse. Photo: Martin Harris/Capital Pictures©Martin Harris/Capital Pictures

Patti Smith on stage at the Roundhouse. Photo: Martin Harris/Capital Pictures

“She is the only girl singer I have ever seen spit on stage,” a newspaper reviewer stated of one particular of Patti Smith’s two shows at the Roundhouse in 1976.

At the time Smith was touring her debut album, Horses, an emissary from the New York punk scene that inspired London’s then-nascent version. Final week she arrived back at the same venue for one more pair of shows, this time celebrating Horses’ 40th birthday.

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It opened with Smith, 68, holding the record sleeve and reciting the poem written on it. “I am actually ready to go,” she declared, prior to volleying an huge globule of saliva on the stage. There were cheers for that — she remains a formidable spitter — and then louder cheers as her band struck up the first song, “Gloria”, with its unimprovable calling-card of a initial line, uttered in a fearless New York drawl: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”

A disciple of artistic wildmen such as Arthur Rimbaud and Jim Morrison, Smith has often placed crucial importance on living in the moment, or “racing by way of the eye of the needle”, as she declared in the opening poem. Now, nevertheless, she is ideal known for reliving previous moments. As effectively as her current Horses tour, she published an acclaimed new volume of autobiography earlier this year, M Train.

As each writer and performer, Smith brings a seize-the-day intensity to the act of memoir. Joined by a band like two members of the original Patti Smith Group — guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty — she gave “Gloria” the full foot-on-monitor treatment, her voice an undimmed roar, the audience chanting along. “Birdland” and “Land” discovered her getting into a shaman-like state of abandon, all beatnik verses (“Got to shed manage!”) and ecstatically trembling hands, the music a tumbling torrent of psychedelic rock.

Horses’ funereal closing track “Elegie”, originally written in memory of Jimi Hendrix, showed that even at the commence of her recording career Smith had an eye for the previous. Tonight it was updated to include a litany of fallen comrades, like her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith of underground rock band the MC5.

The last half of the show ranged by means of her back catalogue, the highlight being the mesmerising drone-rock of 1996’s “Beneath the Southern Cross”. The finale involved Smith holding aloft a guitar with broken strings for the duration of a cover of The Who’s “My Generation” and declaring it her generation’s “weapon”. As an act of theatre it was rather hokey, but the message was taken. Her version of nostalgia is electrifying, not soothing.

Tour continues in the US,

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Section: Arts