In April, Radiohead began releasing an archival concert on YouTube each week, drawn from the decades-spanning material in their newly-launched Public Library. “We will be releasing one a week until either the restrictions resulting from current situation are eased, or we run out of shows,” the band said. “Which will be first? No one knows.”
For diehard Radiohead fans, who had no choice whether or not we “fancy a quiet night in,” this was a blessing. We may not be able to catch Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien on the solo tours they had planned for 2020, but we can certainly reminisce about what it was like to wait for the band in the Tennessee heat at Bonnaroo 2006, or just how special it felt when they released a second From the Basement performance in 2011.
Earlier this month, “At Home With Radiohead” came to an end, but the shows are all still available on Radiohead’s YouTube channel. In chronological order, here are our favorite moments from the streaming series.
“My Iron Lung” (Live at the Astoria, May 1994)
The audience at London’s Astoria on May 27th, 1994, had no idea they were witnessing rock history unfold right in front of their eyes. Many of them probably came just to hear “Creep” and call it a night, but they wound up getting a preview of seven songs from The Bends nearly a year before the album hit. Radiohead’s members were road-testing a batch of new material that they’d go on to perfect in the studio — but they never managed to top the rendition of “My Iron Lung” from this very gig. While Yorke re-did his vocals, the instrumentation captured here is exactly what you hear on the finished album. They released the show on VHS in 1995, and for several years it was their only live release of any sort. — Andy Greene
“The National Anthem” (Live From a Tent in Dublin, October 2000)
Twenty years down the line, it’s easy to forget the radical newness of hearing Kid A in October 2000. Radiohead’s swerve away from rock has been mythologized for so long, and the style they chose instead has been so broadly influential, that it might sound now like a logical next step after OK Computer. But put yourself in the shoes of the fans at a race track in County Kildare, Ireland, that month and imagine what it must have been like to see the show open this way. Jonny Greenwood is twisting the dials on a local news radio broadcast, which crashes into a violent, looping bass line while red siren lights strobe in the darkness. Distorted guitars are squeaking, there are weird squiggly sounds coming out of an Ondes Martenot, the tension keeps mounting, and when Yorke finally opens his mouth to sing after nearly two minutes of fractured jazz, he sounds more like a stressed-out robot on Mars than ever. (This stuff makes “Paranoid Android” sound like “High and Dry.”) In later years, “The National Anthem” has become a beloved part of Radiohead’s set, a reliable energy boost whenever it pops up. Watching it on this grainy, camcorder-style tape, where even the band themselves seem mildly freaked out by the noises they’re making, brings it all back home. —Simon Vozick-Levinson
“House of Cards” (Live at Bonnaroo, June 2006)
Inarguably one of the best concerts Radiohead ever played — and “the best festival experience” they ever had in America, as Jonny Greenwood would later proclaim — the band’s headlining set at the 2006 Bonnaroo festival featured a mammoth 28-song setlist that contained nearly all their non-“Creep” classics, as well as six tracks from an album that, at that point, didn’t exist yet.
Taking place over a year before In Rainbows’ arrival, the Bonnaroo set found Radiohead once again road-testing their next album, resulting in standout renditions of “Nude” and “Bodysnatchers.” (The Bonnaroo version of the latter song captures a frenetic live energy that arguably eluded Radiohead in the studio). However, the highlight of the In Rainbows material was the spaced-out ballad “House of Cards,” which opened their second encore.
It was Radiohead at their Phishiest moment, as a deluge of glow sticks were simultaneously flung by the tens of thousands in attendance; the Bonnaroo video sadly doesn’t capture the song-long glow stick war, reducing it to brief streaks of fluorescent comets. However, after the song finished, Yorke is seen picking up some of the glow sticks that reached the stage and playfully throwing them back into the masses.
Radiohead would return to Bonnaroo six years later, but the vibe wasn’t the same: The fest’s hallowed “Shakedown Street” was gone, a victim of corporatization. The band’s 2012 set was shorter and more niche (only two OK Computer songs?!), and The King of Limbs material just didn’t translate as well on the festival circuit. But the Bonnaroo 2006 video captures Radiohead at their absolute live zenith. — Daniel Kreps
“Bangers + Mash” (In Rainbows: From the Basement, April 2008)
A month before they kicked off their North American tour in support of In Rainbows, the band recorded a session from producer Nigel Godrich’s Basement series. It marked the first time many of us saw In Rainbows material live, from Phil Selway’s drum opening on “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” to Yorke’s gorgeous piano work on “Videotape.” It also offered a glimpse of the bonus tracks on Disk 2, with a rare “Go Slowly” and “Bangers + Mash.” In the latter song, Yorke bashes away chaotically on drums. “Because you bit me, bit me, bit me, ow!/I got the poison, poison, and now I want more.” The band would perform “Bangers + Mash” throughout the tour, but not a single time since. Here, inside the red-carpeted Hospital Club in London, you can savor it. — Angie Martoccio
“Everything in its Right Place” (Live in Saitama, October 2008)
When Radiohead first toured behind Kid A in the early 2000s, a segment of their audience found the new material baffling, and they spent much of the shows waiting for them to break out familiar, guitar-driven tunes from the previous decade. By the time of the In Rainbows tour, however, that crowd had dwindled down to almost nothing, and any song from Kid A was met with roars of approval. At this 2008 arena show in Saitama, Japan, Yorke begins a haunting “Everything In Its Right Place” with a bit of REM’s “The One I Love,” and it’s greeted like “Paranoid Android.” — A.G.
“How to Disappear Completely” (Live in Buenos Aires, March 2009)
Most bands like to wrap up their sets with something uplifting to get people cheering for an encore. Radiohead went in a very different direction when they played the Club Ciudad in Buenos Aires on the In Rainbows tour and closed out with “How to Disappear Completely.” It’s a devastating song that needs a lot of silence to be at its most effective; the enormous crowd, who were going nuts for “Bodysnatchers” moments earlier, hushed up and let the sorrow and dislocation of the tune fill the enormous hall. It’s a beautiful moment, and the crowd was rewarded for its silence when Radiohead broke out “Creep” as the final encore. — A.G.
“Give Up the Ghost” (The King Of Limbs: From the Basement, December 2011)
Radiohead returned to producer Nigel Godrich’s beloved Maida Vale Studios in London in the echo of The King of Limbs for an in-studio performance that was later released on home media. Like the In Rainbows “From the Basement” session years earlier, the Maida Vale versions of the Limbs songs didn’t stray too far from their recently recorded studio counterparts.
Instead, Radiohead used the cozy room as a rehearsal space, loosening up the tracks and letting them breathe before taking the album out on tour. Some songs form new shapes: “Separator” becomes more downbeat, “Lotus Flower” more funky, “Feral” more frenzied. The most welcome rendition is Yorke’s take on “Give Up the Ghost,” a version that magnifies the poignancy and delicate beauty of the Neil Young-indebted track.
Also worth watching: The debut — and perhaps, best — performance of the album’s tender “Codex,” which Radiohead only played live a dozen times before completely abandoning it early in the King of Limbs tour. “Codex,” like “Give Up the Ghost,” never sounded better live than it did in the Basement. — D.K.
“The Daily Mail” (Live from Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, April 2012)
Radiohead’s headlining set at Coachella 2012 caught them at a transitional moment, with the band still working on getting their King of Limbs material to cohere onstage with help from newly added second drummer Clive Deamer. The set had room for plenty of classics — try singing along to the end of “Karma Police” with a few thousand stoned people in the desert if you ever get the chance, it’s nice — and works-in-progress (a loose, jammy “Identikit” that they’d fine-tune a few years later for A Moon Shaped Pool). One peak came with “The Daily Mail,” a one-off that they’d released recently as a digital single. It starts off delicately, with Yorke making veiled accusations over solo piano chords; then, halfway through, the song explodes into an awesomely angry guitar outburst that took much of the crowd by surprise. “The Daily Mail” compresses all the disjointed energy of the Limbs era into one song, which might be why Radiohead left it off the album, and why they’ve played it only a handful of times since 2012. That night at Coachella, it was electric. — S.V.L.
“Creep” (Live at Summer Sonic, August 2016)
Radiohead dropped “Creep” from their live repertoire in 2009, simply because Yorke couldn’t stand the thought of singing it ever again. But after a seven-year break, he finally felt enough distance from the band’s breakthrough hit that he felt comfortable bringing it back roughly every fifth show on the Moon Shaped Pool tour. One of those nights was the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo. They break into the song without saying a word, and the audience, as always, completely loses their shit and sings along to every word. And for just a split second, Yorke looks like he’s actually enjoying it. — A.G.
“Fake Plastic Trees” (Live in São Paulo, April 2018)
By the time Radiohead walked onstage at São Paulo’s Allianz Parque on April 22nd, 2018, the band was in their third year touring behind A Moon Shaped Pool, and they had perfected it. Yorke admitted that he was having fun (“It feels really liberating, which I don’t often say”), and it was tangible each night in the crowd — particularly in South America, where they have a devoted fan base.
In São Paulo, the setlist was packed with fan favorites: a stunning “Let Down,” “Everything in its Right Place,” the exuberant “There There,” and, of course, multiple In Rainbows songs. But nothing quite captured the emotion like “Fake Plastic Trees,” which the band thankfully closed with instead of “Karma Police.” The audience had just finished singing along to the “rain down” section of “Paranoid Android,” led by O’Brien (who never gets enough credit for his backing vocals). The lights come back on and Yorke is seen holding his acoustic guitar, strumming the opening to the beloved Bends track. The crowd jumps right back in, anything but worn out. — A.M.